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In Dwimordene, in Lórien

They drew steadily closer to the shimmering band of gold across their path even as the last rays of the sun touched it with flame; as Maentâl had promised, before full darkness fell they were walking the horses cautiously beneath the outermost boughs of the Golden Wood. All about them in the twilight came a hissing, whispering sound; Rowanna's heart thumped, before she looked up into the vast, vanishing canopy and realised with a start that she heard only leaves moving on the trees. In full leaf, when spring has barely begun! Is the wood truly enchanted, as the tales in the Riddermark tell?

Somehow the whispers and rustles seemed to her to speak; normally she would have scoffed at herself for such a fancy, but in the chilly dusk the thought made her shiver. If Legolas were here, he could tell me what they say! And speak to the trees in his turn, and be accounted a friend...

If the leaves had indeed been speaking, their conversation bore swift fruit; a moment later, without a sound or any move that Rowanna saw, a figure appeared in front of them with bow drawn. She felt the hairs begin to rise on the back of her neck; slowly, moving as little as she could, she turned her head right and then left, and realised they were surrounded by grey-cloaked Elves who had melted in one silent moment out of the trees. Mîrwen stepped forward, hands outstretched low to show them weaponless, and bowed.

"We come in peace," she said clearly in the Grey Tongue, "from Master Elrond of Imladris, with messages of utmost urgency for the Lord and the Lady..."

The Elf before her took a step forward, head a little to one side; after a long moment, he lowered his bow. He gestured, and all but two of the encircling ring also stood down their weapons; he clasped arms with Mîrwen, and in the gloom Rowanna thought she saw his teeth flash in a brief smile. Then he spoke; but though his voice rang clear and sweet, Rowanna slowly realised she could make out barely a word. Nudging Maentâl in the ribs she whispered, "I thought the Elves of Lórien spoke the Grey Tongue, as you do?"

"They speak it, but not as we do!" Maentâl murmured back. "Our peoples have been sundered long, even by Elvish reckoning, and with time our language has grown apart. Mîrwen knows their fashion of speech well and will make herself understood, for she dwelt here some years with Lady Arwen when this was the Evenstar's home, and she is known here to many." That might be no bad thing! Rowanna reflected as the ring of Elves about them continued watchful. At last their leader gave a nod, and Mîrwen turned back to her companions.

"I am asked to beg my friends' pardon on the Galadhrim's behalf for our somewhat... cautious reception," she said softly, pausing to let Rowanna translate for Dirgon at her side. "It seems that not many days ago the marches of Lórien were assailed by orcish raiders out of the Moria mines, and the northern borders are heavily guarded now against further attack. I have explained our errands; Master Elrond's messengers are to be escorted at once to Caras Galadhon - the city of the Lord and the Lady," she added for Rowanna's benefit, "some five leagues to the south of us. But what shall be done with our Mortal friends is matter for more debate."

"But we mean them no harm!" protested Rowanna. "And we too are in haste - surely they will let us pass? "

"That decision is not the border guards' to make," Mîrwen explained. "They have sent for one of the guard-captains, who will - " She broke off, and Rowanna caught her breath, as two more Elves dropped soundlessly from the canopy and stepped into the circle. Though why it still startles me I do not know, she told herself wryly. I should be well used to Elves falling from the trees by now!

One of the newcomers placed his hand over his heart and bowed to them. "Greetings to our kin of Imladris and to our mortal guests," he began in clear though oddly sing-song Westron. "My name is Haldir, and I captain the patrol on this stretch of the northern border." At this point he switched to his own tongue; Mîrwen nodded, and gestured to Maentâl and the other two Rivendell Elves, who shouldered their packs, clicked to their horses, and turned to follow one of the Galadhrim.

"Fear not!" Mîrwen said quickly as Rowanna looked alarmed. "We are bidden to Caras Galadhon; but you will be well cared for, and Haldir has promised to send word to me how you fare." And with that she melted into the trees as smoothly as any Wood-elf, and was gone.

"Have no fear, indeed," Haldir repeated. "For we are not in the habit of maltreating strangers on our borders, unless they be Orcish; and you, they tell me, came from Imladris and have the favour of Master Elrond, and thus should be doubly safe with us. And yet - " He grimaced. "Yet we are wary of bringing Mortals into our domains, the more so in these darkening times, and make exception but rarely and with the best of cause."

"Please, Master Haldir," Rowanna broke in, unable to contain herself longer, "will you not let us pass - under close guard if you will? If we may not pass along Lórien's borders then to reach Edoras we must either cross Anduin, which we have no hope of with horses and no means in any case to cross back again downstream, or we must go all the way around to the West - into the foothills of the mountains, and take many days we can ill afford!" And pass too close to Isengard for Elrond's liking into the bargain! she added silently, remembering the care with which the Master of Rivendell had explained the intended route to her on the day of the thaw so many weeks ago.

Haldir nodded slowly. "Mîrwen has told us of your journey, and your need for haste. And yet it is not within my gift to let you pass without the Lord of the Galadhrim's word..." For a long moment he paused, while Rowanna bit her lip anxiously. "I have it," he said at last. "I will choose escorts for you from my company - I have one other who speaks a good deal of your tongue - and with them you will set off southwards, keeping course half a league or so within the eastern borders of our land; thus will you stay west of Anduin and veiled from any hostile eyes which might watch from eastward, and yet not come too close to the dwellings of our people in Egladil. At the same time a messenger shall go to Caras Galadhon to bear word to the Lord and Lady, and to beg them leave for you; but if that leave is denied, the border guards will stop you at once and put you on a raft across Anduin, horses or no. Will that content you?"

"It will," Rowanna assured him with a sigh of relief, glancing sideways at Dirgon, who nodded his agreement. "And I thank you for your kindness."

Haldir smiled. "It is well. I shall send to Caras Galadhon at once; I would not advise, though, that you travel the borders by night. As well as the hazard to the horses in the darkness of the wood, the risk of Orc attack is much greater after sunset. My company is encamped a half league east of here; would you care to join us for supper?"

Flanked by Haldir and a handful more border-guards, Rowanna and Dirgon led the horses cautiously through the growing gloom. Edlyn was clearly unhappy, snorting and sidestepping at cracking twigs underfoot and owls hooting overhead; Gelion, however, seemed quite serene, turning his head only when a particularly tempting piece of foliage came into range and munching contentedly on his trophies as he walked. He senses the... well, Elvishness is a poor word, but it is the only one I can think of! Rowanna mused as she trudged at his shoulder. And I know now why in the Riddermark they are convinced the Golden Wood is haunted! For all around her the trees spoke in continual whispers, and from far off haunting harmonies drifted on the air; if I did not know that to be Elvish song, she thought as she felt the goosebumps rise at its unearthly beauty, I should think it the work of ghostly voices myself! Truly we seem to have strayed into another world...

They walked on; in her weariness Rowanna felt twilight and harmonies begin to blend with memory and dream, mingling in her mind Elvish song past and present, the Golden Wood and woods yet older; she was back in the Hall of Fire, but watching Lúthien dance for an enchanted Beren beneath the moon in Beleriand, with Legolas' hushed and wondering voice in her ear: "I did not know!"

A low whistle broke into her waking dream, and Haldir held up a hand to halt them. In the darkness beneath the trees Rowanna could at first see nothing but the faint glow of a well-banked fire; then for a moment a silvery light flickered, showing her a pair of dark shapes rising from a crouch next to the campfire. One of these held up a small lantern - source of the silver light - by which he, or she, briefly inspected the Mortal guests. Low murmurs were exchanged; then, after another whistle, a light rustling in the tree above heralded the descent of another Elf, who at a nod from Haldir reached for Edlyn's bridle and said something softly to Gelion. The horses followed willingly, Rowanna guessed to be tethered somewhere.

A rich smell of stewing mushrooms was rising from the fire, making her mouth water and her stomach suddenly rumble. As her eyes grew accustomed to the fire's glow, she looked around to find the rest of the camp; seeing no sign of any other Elves or any gear, she was about to ask Haldir where his men were when he laid a hand on her arm and gestured upwards. In the trees! Rowanna realised with sudden alarm. Still, it makes a certain sense to keep out of sight of any who invade the borders - and what else would I expect of Elves of the Golden Wood?

The thought of attempting to clamber up her first ever tree in the dark made her heart sink. Fortunately,a rope-ladder was let down with a rattle, and Haldir climbed behind her in case she should slip. Grunts and scraping sounds below told her that Dirgon must be following, and sure enough, shortly after she clambered with a gasp of relief through a large hole into the centre of a wooden platform, he heaved himself through and lay for a moment panting on the boards. "Welcome, mortal friends," said Haldir's voice in the darkness, "to our camp." Another silver glow sprang up as he half-unshuttered a lantern and placed it close to the platform's centre. Slowly Rowanna made out several Elves sitting quietly around her; then Haldir pointed out a cluster of further platforms - "we call them telain, though in your tongue Men call them flets," he told her - among the tree's great branches and in another alongside.

The smell of cooking grew suddenly stronger, and another pale head appeared through the flet's centre, bearing a tightly-lidded stewpot. Wooden bowls and spoons were handed around; Rowanna, feeling ravenous, tried to hold back from wolfing the meal down, but still heard soft laughter as she accepted the offer of a second and, eventually, even a third bowl. "Sleep now," said Haldir firmly after the meal was done. "You may see or hear us come and go during the night, but you will always be guarded, and if there is danger you will hear this call," - he whistled sharply through his teeth three times under his breath - "but louder. And if you hear it, then unless you are bidden to move, stay here and stay silent!"

Rowanna nodded, then frowned. "Where do we sleep?..." Haldir laughed, and motioned to another Elf who stepped lightly away into the branches as though walking on solid ground.

"Eldir will fetch you bedrolls. We can wedge these rush screens - so - " he demonstrated, "against the branches on either side; to screen you from the wind, though there is little tonight, but also so that you shall not roll off the talan!"

Eldir returned with a bundle of bedding strapped to his back, and Rowanna soon lay rolled up in a pile of blankets and furs, listening to the rustling of the trees all about her and to Dirgon's snores, and convinced she would get no sleep at all. In fact, she realised the next morning, weariness must soon have overtaken her and the night had clearly been uneventful; for she did not stir till a chorus of birdsong gradually swelled as the first light broke through Lothlórien's mists, and for the first time in many days woke without the uneasy half-memory of bad dreams . She sat up and stretched, and the Elf sitting cross-legged at the corner of the platform pushed back his hood and said something soft and lilting with a smile.

"Daw maer, hannon le," Rowanna responded; after all, perhaps he did ask if I spent a good night,she thought, and it seems more courteous to use the Grey Tongue even if he will not understand a word I say in it!

Another of the patrol appeared a few moments later bearing water-flasks, a basket of dried berries and fruit and small loaves of a dense bread, which made a pleasant enough breakfast; as they finished eating, Haldir stepped on to the platform from an adjoining branch, followed by an Elf whose dark hair was braided and pulled back from his smooth pale face. "Here I bring Tirnlaeg, of my company," he explained once he had enquired after his guests' comfort. "As I told you last evening, he speaks a good deal of your Common Tongue, and will be your guide along the eastern marches of our land. Unless word comes from the Lord of the Galadhrim that you may not pass, in two days you should reach our southern borders, and beyond them your own land of the horse-lords. Your horses are below, well fed and watered, and as soon as your preparations are made you may depart."

All that day they journeyed southwards; even beneath the trees there was soft grass, making easy going for the horses underfoot. Tirnlaeg led the way, with Rowanna at his side leading Gelion; Edlyn and Dirgon followed, with another Elf of Haldir's company silently and watchfully bringing up the rear. From time to time Rowanna would hear low whistles among the calls of the birds, and feel sure that their passage was tracked, though of the watchers in the trees she saw no sign.

Tirnlaeg was eager to make use of his skill in Westron, especially once Rowanna had tried her Sindarin on him and found her Rivendell accents more confusing than helpful, and as they walked they talked first of her journey and then of the Last Homely House itself. "I have never seen it," Tirnlaeg confessed, "though they say the valley is very fair, and Master Elrond wise and good. But I have seen its brightest star! - you know, perhaps, that Elrond's daughter that they call the Evenstar dwelt here many sun-rounds with the Lady?..."

"I did know," Rowanna agreed. "The Lady Arwen is - well, she was a good and kind friend to me, while I dwelt in Rivendell. She spoke sometimes of Lothlórien; I think she was very happy here..."

"Tell me of Imladris," the Elf begged. "It is said that it is a haven not only for the Firstborn; that Elrond Half-Elven is friend to all Free Peoples, and that Men and even Naugrim - Dwarves, do you say? - are welcome there! I could not have believed it myself, had I not seen the company that passed - " He broke off suddenly and muttered something in his own tongue. "No, pardon me. That is not to be spoken of - I should not have - " But Rowanna had stopped dead with a gasp, causing a stamp and a snort from Gelion, and had no intention of letting the chance remark pass.

"The Company? - You have seen - Men, a Dwarf - Frodo's Company? They passed through Lothlórien?... Tirnlaeg, please, you must tell me - I knew them in Rivendell and some of them were - my good friends -" Her breath caught in her throat at the sudden memories: Merry and Pippin scoffing cake in Bilbo's rooms; walking up to the Falls with Frodo; Legolas turning and smiling at her across the Hall of Fire...

"They passed through the Wood," Tirnlaeg said reluctantly. "More, I think, I should not tell you." And for the rest of the morning he would say no more, despite Rowanna's entreaties, instead pointing out and naming the different spring flowers just beginning to break through the new grass, or identifying birds for her by their calls.

At the noontide stop, he busied himself laying out food and fetching water from the stream while Rowanna and Dirgon turned the horses loose to graze, and spoke little. As they took to the path again, however, he motioned her to walk beside him. "I ask you to forgive my caution this morning," he began. "The Shadow's threat on our borders makes us wary of all strangers, even when they come in friendship, and I feared to say more than was wise. But I have thought upon it; and knowing that you do indeed come from Imladris, in the company of Master Elrond's folk and of Mîrwen who is known to us, you surely cannot be an agent of the Enemy nor hostile to those who would defeat him. More, you must know already, perhaps better than I, who were this strange fellowship who passed through our lands and what was their purpose. What news then can I give you?"

"Everything! When did they come, were they in good heart, were they all nine well - " She broke off as Tirnlaeg frowned.

"Of course," he said softly, "you do not know... Not nine passed the borders of this land, lady, I fear, but eight only." Rowanna was puzzled. Had Boromir then after all chosen not to stay with the Company but to return to Gondor by the swiftest road? But Tirnlaeg had said "I fear" - She could not breathe.

"Not - "

"Men, Elf, Dwarf and Halflings passed into this land," Tirnlaeg said heavily, "but no wizard. Mithrandir fell, in the mines of Moria they said, defending them from a great evil of the ancient world that rose from its fiery depths..."

Gandalf! Her head reeled. What power on this earth - For a moment she felt the blood roar in her ears and leaned heavily on Gelion, wondering if she would faint; I knew they walked into peril, but if Gandalf could fall...What hope have they?

"Lady? Are you well?" The Elf's anxious tones came from far away as her dizziness receded.

"I - yes, well enough, Tirnlaeg. Tell me more as we go on..."

Tirnlaeg did his best, as they worked their way steadily southwards through the golden afternoon, to answer Rowanna's stream of questions. He had been on leave in Caras Galadhon the previous moon-round, he explained, not on the border with Haldir's patrol, and like many of the folk of the Golden Wood had been curious to see the strangers. "They were sorely grieved and wearied when they came among us, and their faces showed it; I looked on the Man Aragorn and did not know him, well though I remember his dwelling in our land for a season when the Lady Undómiel was among us. There was grey in his hair and his face was lined, as Mortals are when they have seen much care..." Or simply as they age! thought Rowanna wryly. If I remember rightly what Bilbo told me, it is near forty years since Aragorn was in Lórien with Arwen. Only an Elf could be surprised at a few grey hairs in two score years!

From what Tirnlaeg said, though, she gathered that in the rest and peace of the Golden Wood the Company had regained some of their spirits: "The little folk, the Halflings - what do they call that strange stuff of theirs? Galenas that they burn in wooden pipes, and breathe the smoke?" He looked so revolted at the thought that Rowanna could not help but laugh.

"Pipeweed! Well, if they were smoking, they must have been in better heart; you cheer me, Tirnlaeg!"

"Yet even that was not the strangest sight," the Elf said with a smile, stepping lightly around a scattering of the little golden flowers he had told Rowanna were called elanor. "In years gone I journeyed north as far as the realms of our kin in the Greenwood - it was on those travels that I learnt your tongue - and I had seen the Stunted People before, travelling the forest road between their caverns. Yet never had I thought to see a Dwarf walk in fast friendship with one of the Firstborn!"

"You mean - Gimli? Gimli and Legolas?"

Tirnlaeg laughed in his turn. "To you then, also, it seems strange? But yes, they were much together, and Legolas would not hear a word against the Dwarf. When he came among us to sing in the starlight, after the Mortals were abed, we would challenge him, asking how he could walk and talk so readily with one so squat and so rough of speech, one whose people were our ancient foes; and he would only smile and say that since he began his journey from the Greenwood, he had found himself walking down many paths stranger than he could have imagined. No better answer could we ever get from him, though we asked him often enough!"

Rowanna walked for a while lost in thought, occasionally clicking her tongue absently at Gelion, who was taking advantage of her inattention to lean across the path in search of tempting greenery to chew on. As the sun went down, the chirruping in the trees around them must have held more than roosting birds' calls; for Tirnlaeg called a halt at a little stream before darkness fell, and pointed out a talan half-hidden high overhead in the golden leaves of a great tree.

"We shall go no further today, for we are bidden not to bring strangers any nearer Caras Galadhon than we must," he told them, "and thus must turn and travel closer to the Wood's borders, which is best not done at night. They tell me there are rumours afoot from the City - that a great Eagle alighted at its heart a few days ago bearing a strange burden, and that the Lord and the Lady are labouring over some healing work, which none must disturb. We will camp here tonight; there is water for the beasts, and a sleeping-place for you."

After they had made their supper of bread and berries, and a little cold cooked meat, Dirgon rolled himself up promptly in his blankets and was soon snoring; Rowanna, though, lay awake, gazing up through the canopy at the familiar patterns of the Swordsman and the Netted Stars.

"You do not sleep?" Tirnlaeg's lilting voice came softly out of the darkness.

"I was thinking... of what you told me of the Company. I cannot believe that Gandalf is gone!"

"Nor can the people of the Wood," he said, "for Mithrandir was the Grey Pilgrim, one of the Wise, and few were the powers in Middle-earth we thought could match him..." They kept silence for a while, as the wood breathed around them in the night, and Rowanna stifled a yawn. Somewhere a little way off an owl hooted.

"I, too, have been thinking," Tirnlaeg's murmur came again, "that I should have known you earlier; for unless I mistake, then Legolas of the Greenwood spoke to me of you."

She sat bolt upright, making the boards of the talan creak suddenly in the stillness. "Of me? But what - why - "

"We were talking of mortals, and what he found to befriend in them. He spoke of the Halflings, of their good cheer and stout hearts; and then he talked of a mortal woman of Dúnadan line who had come to Imladris to be healed of an injury, and who used to ride with him - is that another?"

"No... that is me..."

"He said - " Tirnlaeg paused: and then, as he recalled word for word, Rowanna seemed to hear Legolas speak, so close and so warmly that her heart swelled painfully in her chest:

"I do not know how to tell you, Tirnlaeg - all I can think to say is that whatever she did, she lived with all her heart... We would ride every day, and every day she would shout with delight at the gallop as though it was something she had never done before nor thought ever to do again; she was greedy for life, she loved to talk and ride - and eat and drink! - and listen to music and tales, always impatient for the next day's dawn, as though there would never be enough time in the world for all she wanted to do. And her laugh! If you heard her laughter... it bubbled up from within her like a spring you could not dam, it was so rich and joyous, it never failed to gladden my heart. I wish I could hear her laugh now..."

"He told me," Tirnlaeg concluded, "that since he came to Imladris he had begun to see for the first time why the Gift of Men might indeed be a gift. But I never understood what he meant by that."

He bid her good night, and stepped silently away into the branches to take his turn at watch. Rowanna turned over in her bedroll, and lay listening to the whispering of the trees, wrapped in a warmth of memory more comforting than any Elven furs.


Author's Notes:

It took me a while to work out the geography for this stage of Rowanna and Dirgon's journey; it's not entirely clear whether Lothlórien's borders extend right down to the Anduin, or whether there is open land between the Wood's eastern borders and Anduin. The text of LoTR ("Farewell to Lórien") makes clear that there is woodland on the far side of Anduin too, but implies that those woods are not considered part of Lórien, for no mallorns grow on the far bank. While the very simplified large-scale maps in the back of LoTR seem to show Lórien as lying a little west of Anduin with a gap between the two, Barbara Strachey's more detailed and text-based maps in Journeys of Frodo show Lórien extending pretty much right up to the Great River. I compromised on deciding that whether or not the Wood itself extended right up to the west bank of Anduin, that land would be considered sufficiently under the eye of the Lórien border-guards to make it impossible or unwise to travel it without the Lord and Lady's leave.

Daw maer, hannon le - "A good night, thank you".

Tirnlaeg - lit. "watcher-greenelf".


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