If you ask poets they'll tell you that love is a flame. That it strikes you hard and changes you forever, that it will carve itself into your every feature. Of course, sometimes, poets lie.
I have known such a love I bleed for it still. I have recognized how ecstasy and pain can mingle and destroy all that you previously knew. But there are many kinds of love, and not all of them hurt so much.
The love I knew with Legolas grew slow and great and fair, as a tree may grow in Elvish woods untouched by axe and fire. It ripened over a long time, as the seasons passed changing nothing of Mirkwood's deathless green. Only its shadows grew lighter, and in the renewed brightness the Elves of Thranduil, me among them, played and sung in the clearings under undimmed stars.
Like a flower slowly unfurling its petals after a violent rain our love became strong, and in it was woven the joy of the years as the Shadow of Dol Guldur and the mourning of the Battle of Five Armies were left behind. Elvish sorrow can be bottomless, but when we can, we like to heal. Bright voiced echoes once again South of the mountains.
Although many, after the first twenty years or so, expected it to happen at any moment, Legolas and I did not marry. We felt no need, not yet, not while the world seemed to fill with light once again and so beautiful it was to tread and find countless paths that previous years had marred and ruined. We rediscovered the beauty of the earth, and felt like we were the first to run with weightless feet on new, soft grass.
One does not linger too long on the years of happiness past. One has never much to say. What good would it be, now, to recall in clear detail every song composed beneath the Spring leaves, or describe the beautiful works that adorned Thranduil's halls when his Elves forgot sorrow, and set their hands to making once again? There would be nothing but a distant, aching grief in recalling the countless nights spent sleeping in the woods, now almost free from menace and threat. All those years, a very long time for Man or Dwarf or Orc, are but a small part of my life, that still is not long according to Elvish counts.
It has been the brightest part of it, this is true. A cloudless morning before a long darkness. Night fell when we least expected it, and in its falling all stars ceased to shine. No hope was left, no light. Later, there was nothing but a blind, endless fight, bows raised in the mortal hunt of war. I learnt how deadly the Elvish skill of tracking and hunting can be. But all this happened only after forty years spent in joy in the green light, pale shadow of Mirkwood the Great.
Looking back now all that remains of that season is the opal clearness of a happy haze. The days fell into each other, and I cared not to count them. In the confused joy, now marred with sorrow, that comes to my mind when I indulge in the remembrance of those days, sometimes a memory comes back sharper of the others, double-edged and painful. My heart throbs.
Legolas' shining eyes, his soft voice. The taste of his lips on mine.
The ruin began, this I remember clearly, the day of the Dłnadan.
"Your race is over!"
"Don't speak before the time!"
Headlong I dived into the pool, the freshness of the water seeping through my clothes. Startled, fish swam away from me with reproachful strokes, and I went deeper under the surface, making my way among the long stems of the water-lilies, idly moving with the current.
When I emerged on the other side of the small lake of Legolas there was no trace.
"Come out, my lord," I called him, "I won, but it does not become you to remain sulking among the trees, like a scorned deer. Come out!"
There was no answer but the talk of the trees, endless in the forest. The air was crisp, the Autumn near. I took advantage of every last occasion to play in the water before the winter frost. The clarity of these pools made me forget the bright streams of Ithilien, whose remembrance sometimes came back to sting.
"My lord?" I asked once again, less playfulness in my voice, of the woods so quiet in the morning. "Legolas!"
Before I had time to look around for more, I felt something grasping my ankle, and I was dragged under once more. Down and down I was brought till opening my eyes the sun was but a stain on the surface, far above me. A shadow filled my eyes, strong arms encircled my waist, and Legolas swam me up again. Lightly, before our head broke the water, his mouth sought mine.
"That was cheating, prince," I scolded him, hiding a smile behind my hand.
"Not nearly as much as forcing me to take a plunge in this biting cold, my lady. I daresay we'll never regain the shore of this ocean you have brought us in."
"Let us stay here, then. Perhaps all fishes were once imprudent Elves."
"I can think of worse fates."
He smiled. His long hair hung in wet curtains around his neck, and his pale skin glistened. I looked elsewhere. After forty years, sometimes it still hurt to look at him. Gently, his fingers sought my chin, making me raise my face to his. He bent over me, and his nose gently stroked mine.
One thing had not changed, no matter how many seasons had passed. When I was with Legolas, there could be no pain. Only this boundless peace.
"My lord, forgive us."
We detached. A party of archers stood on the edge of the pool, their captain looking discreetly elsewhere.
"Your father calls for your presence at the palace. The Dłnadan has come with many news, and not all of them are glad."
"Short are the years since the last bringer of bad tidings left these woods. Much too short. We will come at once."
A moment more, and the archers were but glimpses of cloth among the trees. Soon, they vanished.
Men think Elves can see the future. In truth, few among us are gifted or cursed with authentic foresight, but most of us can feel the change of the tide. The Sun kept shining, but suddenly the water of the pool did not glitter.
"Come, my lady."
Legolas climbed back on the bank, stretching a hand to help me. The cool air caressed briskly my wet skin, but caring not for it we walked back, through the trees to the entrance of Thranduil's palace of many caves. For the first time, as I crossed their threshold and sought their corridors hung with bright lamps, I shivered.
The Dłnadan, his face, once beautiful, now carved with the weight of years notwithstanding the long life of his kin, stood in front of the King, his dark clothes stained and marked as by a long journey.
We bowed our head in greeting. In the past long years sometimes he would come, crossing the Wild, following tracks with Elvish skill. He had been raised in the wisdom of Imladris, and in his youth he had looked as fair as the Noldor lords of old. But as years passed ad we remained unchanged, only gaining in wisdom as a new depth to our keen eyes, the Dłnadan grew and ripened; and he paid for his maturity with changed features, marked countenance. His story was written on his skin.
"The tide I bring is not fair, and my heart grieves. The storm draws nearer, my Lord Thranduil."
"Long has been our guard on the borders of our wood, looking for the Shadow, knowing it would come back. Joyful are the years we count from the battle of Dol Guldur, but indeed new tidings have come."
"The malice of the Dark Lord ever grows. One errand, seemingly small, has guided my steps so North, and yet it has to be fulfilled."
"If you may speak of it, and we be able to offer assistance, do not hesitate in asking."
"I am waiting here for Mithrandir to join me in the hunt of a small, pitiful creature, a living thing ruined by the mischief of the Enemy. A crawling, debased animal it would look to you, and yet deadly can be his skills, grown murderous under the Shadow."
"Here such a creature does not dwell. Long we have searched and hunted, and our work is not yet over; but of the many evils that Sauron caused, this is unknown to us."
"We suspected as much. Still, when the hunt begins the creature could seek escape this way from our chase. If it does, pray try to retain him, and harm it not."
"We will not, as far as we can. And now, if, Dłnadan, the wizard bade you wait, you may do so here, and be an honoured guest."
The Man bowed his head.
The court broke, the king withdrew, and Legolas and I, till then standing respectfully aside, went to speak to the Dłnadan.
For some years we had not seen him, and we asked news of many things. What we learnt was such to chill hearts less sensitive than Elvish ones, and after words had been exchanged and the moment to lead him away to his quarters approached, I resolved to question him as to a matter I had previously proposed to banish forever from my thoughts.
"What tides of Ithilien, my lord?"
His face was sad.
"Long has been since last I visited the Realm of the South, my lady, and surely Mithrandir will tell you more. But long are the Shadows cast on the Tower of Guard, and all of its territories are now besieged."
I closed my eyes. Valley and shade and leaf. Running stream. Dappled light of fairer Suns. The truth that this endless peace had hidden from me now hurt anew. The land of my fathers was calling me back.
I opened my eyes. The Man looked at me gravely, but all light had gone from Legolas' glance. He knew.