The Lord of the Rings
Myth and Memory
Audio copy: You can listen to this story on my podcast: There Are Three of Me. It is read in Ep5 S1E5. You can find There Are Three of Me on Spotify and Spotify Podcasters..
Disclaimer: This story is not intended to infringe on any rights by Tolkien or the estate thereof. It is merely a story from my imagination regarding Tolkien's characters. I write it in honor of those characters and I make no profit on it whatsoever.
Yes, I was there. I was a door warden under Hama-may our fathers receive him-before war came openly to our lands. Few there are of us left who guarded the doors of Meduseld. Hama fell to the wargs and most of the others fell at Helm's Deep. So many fell at Helm's Deep.
No, you did not ask about the Deep, and I thank you for that. Hard memories are left me of that battle. You asked about the Elf and I can see the fear and wonder in your eyes. I once held those same fears. And then one came to Edoras.
It was before the war began in earnest, after Éomer King-who was not yet King then-had been banished by the schemer, Wormtongue. I was not on watch the hour they arrived. But Yonwin, my friend, told me, for he had seen them approach Meduseld and had witnessed Hama allowing them entrance. Gandalf the Grey had returned to Rohan, and not alone. He had as his companions a Man and a Dwarf. And an Elf.
An Elf! I could scarcely believe that Hama would allow such a creature to pass the gate. Ah, but Grima Wormtongue passed the same gate every day, you say, so it should hardly have been such a wonder in those dark times.
I waited with Yonwin below the stairs to Meduseld, hoping to spot the wizard's companions. And fearing it. The Dwarf did not intrigue so much, and hardly the Man, but an Elf? Stories are still told of the witch in the Wood, of men who wandered beneath those trees and never returned. So I waited, with both anticipation and trepidation, to glimpse the foul creature. I imagined a tall being, half again the height of a Man, with a grim countenance, strange and foreign, with eyes like coal that could see right through a man. You would imagine the same, I see. So you understand, then, why I waited around the corner of the stairs and hoped to go unnoticed.
And yet, when the doors were opened, it was Théoden King-may our fathers receive him-who emerged, looking nearly as young and hale as those bright days past before Wormtongue became his minder. Grima, too, emerged from the court, and was thrown upon the ground by our reborn King! It was a glorious thing to behold, and it took my mind from the Elf. It was only after Wormtongue ran off like the coward we all knew him for that I remembered again my reason for lurking so near the court.
I looked now for that other fell creature and half-hoped I would not find him, for the fear in my heart. The Dwarf was easy to spot by his stature and Gandalf by his beard. That left only two strangers, the fouler of which was the Man. The other was standing beside the Lady Éowyn, and, truth be told, it was beyond me to choose the fairer of the two.
He was tall, as I had thought, but not so tall as I had imagined. He was slender and lithe, with hair the color of the noon sun, braided in part, but left long, much like we keep ours. Far from grim, his face held only a peaceful watchfulness. His blue eyes shone with curiosity as he regarded the King and his companions. He looked like no more than a young man in build, hardly older in face than myself and Yonwin. His ears, though, gave him away for an Elf, pointed as they were. He was not dressed as I might have thought a sorcerer would-in thick, dark robes perhaps-but in light clothes of green and brown with a long cloak matching those of the Man and Dwarf. He seemed to have a regal air about him.
Yet even the fair can be witches, Yonwin reminded me, though I found myself doubting that so fair a creature could be dangerous at all. Still, I resolved with Yonwin to watch him when our duties permitted.
Because my watch began at sunset, I did not see more of the Elf that day, though Yonwin did, as his watch ended when mine began. Following the funeral of the King's son, Gandalf and the strangers all retired into the court, there to rest and be fed for they had journeyed long from Anduin across the plains in pursuit of a band of Uruk-Hai that had taken their Halfling friends. This much of the companions' tale was known, but not what became of the friends, nor the purpose of their journey before they were separated. Though, of course, we know it now as Siegrod the Bard sings of it every year at this time. And nay, I did not see the Halflings, though I know one rode with us to Gondor's aid in secret. But, in those days, trust was not a thing easily given, so their mission was guarded and kept close. Of it, perhaps, the King was told, but not the lesser door wardens such as myself or Yonwin.
The Man and Dwarf ate much that night, Yonwin reported, but the Elf ate not at all. Yonwin assigned several possible motives for the Elf's lack of appetite, arrogance and distrust of our food being the most likely in his thinking. And yet, when Gandalf took to counseling the King on the matter of Saruman and war, the Man participated, and the Dwarf busied himself with food; but the Elf stood silent as a sentry and never uttered a word. This perplexed Yonwin greatly and he asked me if Elves could speak in the manner of Men, but I could not say for I had never heard one then.
It was that night during my watch that I learned the answer. Or something near. I did not find out if Elves could speak, but I no longer doubted that they had voices. Late that night, though his companions, doubtless, were resting, the Elf emerged from the court and stood upon the stairs gazing up at the sky and the stars. He spoke not to me nor to the other wardens at the door, and neither did we offer welcome. His feet made no sound as he skipped down a few of the steps to get a better view. And then I heard a tune, soft and fair as the creature who made it. I could not understand the words he sang; I could hardly even hear them. But the melody that wafted by on the breeze spoke to me of beauty and light threatened by shadow and grief.
All night he sang, and it did not even occur to me that his song might be a bewitchment in itself. Yet I could not deny that it had stirred something in me. While often I found the night too quiet and a challenge to endure in full awareness, this night was both long and short, and when the first light of the sun began to appear, I had not expected it so soon. The Elf, however, did not seem surprised. He merely stopped singing and walked back into the court. We wardens might have been statues for all the notice he gave us.
As soon as he was gone, the calm of night gave way to the noise of morning. Roosters gave the alarm, horses stamped, and doors began to open. Yonwin appeared only moments later with the other wardens of his shift. And then Hama came out with orders from the King that we should leave Edoras and make for Helm's Deep, there to guard our people from Saruman's minions. It was good that I had taken my rest before my duty as I would not now get sleep. I thought, though, of the Elf and his sleepless night after his equally sleepless journey from Anduin and wondered if he would be tired for this next journey.
Like the rest of the younger wardens, Yonwin and I were assigned to help the people of Edoras to pack what they needed. I watched, though, for the Elf when I could. While I no longer had fear of him, he still held a fascination for me. He and his companions came out, complaining about the order. I should say his companions were complaining. Gandalf was fairly barking his disagreement with the King, while the Man-and surely, you realize that this was Lord Aragorn, or King Elessar of Gondor-defended Théoden King's reasoning, saying he did what he thought was best for his people. The Elf was as silent as the day before, though now he carried his weapons as he followed the others to the stables. I caught only a glimpse of them: a long bow of fine craftsmanship and a quiver of arrows. I could see no more.
It would take far too long to tell you of the entire journey to Helm's Deep-and I am certain Siegrod could tell it better-so I will tell you in brief and keep to the matter at hand, that being the Elf. The journey was long and slowed by the necessity of keeping pace with women and children and those men who had no horses. We ate as we rode and broke only for sleeping a few scant hours each night. Yonwin and I amused ourselves by making a game of the Elf.
Our duty? It was our duty to watch the Elf, though no such order had been given. We couldn't leave an Elf loose in the line, Yonwin said. Who knew what such a creature might do if allowed to go freely among us? As for myself, well, someone had to keep an eye on Yonwin, and I was curious. And he could have been right about the Elf, I suppose.
For his part, the Elf made it interesting. For though we strove to watch him at all times, any distraction would take him from our sight, and we would have to search for him all over again. Sometimes he would be upon a gray horse-Arod, a horse of Rohan, given him by Éomer himself-with the Dwarf behind him, and at others he would be alone. At yet other times we found him walking, alone or beside the horse. And though our shoulders would sag from fatigue and from the weight of our armor, he wore none and his posture was always erect. Yonwin asked me if Elves ever slept, and I asked him why he thought I might know so much about Elves. Still, the Elf presented an intriguing puzzle. Did Elves eat or sleep or speak? The one we had on hand to observe had done none of these things-that we had witnessed-even days into the march.
Now, you must understand, the Elf was not aware of our game, so we attempted to keep behind him and out of his notice as we spied. Always there were people and horses and carts between us, and our curiosity was mounting. Yonwin suggested we find him at camp when everyone was resting and we had no other duty. We stopped late that night, with but six hours before we would march on in the morning. Yonwin and I ate our meal quickly and saw to our duty to those of the people nearest us. Then, seeing them settled in and well-guarded by others, we stole away to find our quarry. Oft times the Elf could be found at the front of the column, so we looked forward first, moving quickly up the line. But he was not there. We turned back, taking better care, but also worrying we'd be asleep on our horses if we did not find the Elf quickly.
Two hours passed before we found his companions, well back in the line and resting together not far from the King and the Lady Éowyn. It was a dark night, with no light other than the stars and moon. Our people, in their dark clothes, littered the ground here and there around burnt-out campfires whose embers glowed faintly in the night. And we, clad in armor as we were, tried to steal closer to see if perhaps the Elf was there with them.
Ai, it is a wonder that I was ever made door warden, and Yonwin as well! For we were nearly upon him by the time we spotted him, even though he was as a light compared to the darkness around him. And indeed, when we did find him, he was looking straight at us! So much for our supposed stealth! So startled was he, that Yonwin tripped and fell not ten feet from where the Elf was sitting, propped against some bundle or other. He made such a clamor that I was sure everyone would wake. A few of the nearest people mumbled, but the Elf, amazingly, did not move. I dropped more quietly to the ground beside Yonwin, and we halted there hoping that, having miraculously missed the Elf's notice, we might continue the night the same way. Yonwin fairly shook with fear and whispered something about a spell being cast in retribution. I had no such fear any longer. That song I had heard in Edoras pushed away such thoughts. How could so gentle a song come from a dark and evil heart? But still I wished not to be found spying and have to explain myself.
We waited there a quarter hour, with the Elf still staring in our direction, before I realized with a start that he did not see us. I tried to rise, and Yonwin pulled at my arm to keep me down. "He does not see," I whispered, brushing off his hand. "They do sleep! But with open eyes," I said. Then I urged us away to our own rest. Morning would come quickly and we would march the whole day without another rest.
Yonwin hesitated, but as the Elf had not stirred at my rising, he must have realized that I was right. We left that place, again stepping around fires and over sleeping bodies until we found our own bedrolls and fell into them. "His eyes were open," Yonwin repeated with a shudder. "That cold stare will haunt my dreams." And I must admit that it was not welcome in mine either.
Morning came quickly indeed and it was hard to rise from so little sleep, but rise we did, as duty demands. Helm's Deep was still a day out. We were still behind the King and his escorts and thus the Elf, so we mounted our horses and went quickly forward. The Dwarf we found with Éowyn, Lord Aragorn and Théoden King not far behind. But no Elf. We rode on a bit and then passed our horses to a couple of women with heavy burdens and small children. The women thanked us and agreed when we said we would return for them before the noon meal. "He must be forward," Yonwin reasoned. "He's always forward."
So forward we went. Keeping to the outside of the column, we moved from one side to the other, always looking ahead to try and spot him upon his gray steed. But our stomachs began to tell us of the noon-meal's approach and of our need to return to our horses, and still we had not found him. We turned together to go back . . . and nearly walked right into the object of our search! Yonwin tripped himself this time and fell promptly to the ground. I was startled and stepped back.
The Elf cocked one eyebrow as he regarded my companion. "Is this yours?" he asked, holding up a small dagger. I looked back to Yonwin, and stifled a chuckle of amusement. There was his answer: Elves do speak!
When I looked back at the Elf, I found his eyebrow cocked at me, which was a bit disturbing somehow, now that I mention it. Yonwin, whether out of shock or fear, had yet to speak, and he was still sitting on the ground. I did not remember losing my blade, but I patted my armor anyway, to be certain. I felt my own hilt and remembered Yonwin's fall the night before. I looked and the sheath upon his belt was empty. "It is his," I replied for my stricken friend, though I was a bit chagrined that my own voice was hardly more than a squeak. Even asleep, the Elf had known we were there!
He still held the dagger, though he now extended it toward its owner. "You will find this valuable in the coming days, I should think," he said, and I noted his speaking voice was not so much different from his singing. It seemed also to have a sense of melody to it.
The Elf regarded Yonwin a moment but Yonwin still made no move to rise or to take back his knife. So the Elf turned to me. His eyes may not have been black-they were a radiant blue, if you must know-but I did feel now that he could see right through me. He did not speak, yet I could feel a question in his gaze. But in such a gaze, he exposed himself, and I felt I could read much in his eyes as well. No hatred or danger lurked in those pools of blue. Youth was in his face, but age was in those eyes, years and seasons and memories beyond count. I remembered one other characteristic I had heard whispered about Elves: immortal.
I nodded and took the dagger from him, though, as Yonwin had made no move to do so. Yonwin decided then to rise and so I bent to help him to his feet. When I looked up again, the Elf was gone.
When next we saw the Elf, Yonwin and I were mounted again and he was standing atop a hill, firing that long bow at a large force of approaching wargs. Lord Aragorn had sounded the alarm, and we who were riders had split from the column to meet the threat. The Elf, always out front, stood waiting for them, horseless, and yet wargs and orcs fell to his arrows.
The pounding of horses hooves and the knowledge that we faced danger that threatened our people put a fire in my heart that I had not yet felt before. Grima had seen to it that no battle had actually come to Edoras so I was not yet ready for the sight of orcs and those fell beasts. But danger and my King's command had built up the excitement within me. Directly in front of me was Arod, but only the Dwarf was atop him. The Elf was still shooting his bow. He did not look back or even flinch as the first of the horses passed him. Arod was nearly upon him and I was sure he'd be over-run. But at the last moment, he turned and caught hold of Arod's breast collar, and then he was swinging around the horse and up into the saddle. I heard not a few gasps around me, but we had little time to be impressed at the Elf's feat, for the wargs were upon us.
I had never seen an orc in the flesh before that day, and I counted myself fortunate on that account. Hideous beings they were, atop equally hideous beasts. The wargs were doglike, a corruption of a wolf perhaps, enlarged to the size of our horses and many times more fierce. The orcs atop them carried jagged blades and heavy axes, and even if one defended against the rider, the warg could still kill. Battle among these beings was utter chaos and only one clear memory emerges from the blur of events that led up to it.
I had forgotten about the Elf, about Yonwin, and even about the King, as I swung my blade this way and that and tried to dodge and skirt the fangs and claws of the wargs. There was only myself, my horse, and whoever should come against us. I found myself facing a charging orc and beheaded the beast with my sword. It fell, but the warg it had been riding rammed against Gerbald, my horse, nearly toppling him over. Gerbald bucked and began to thrash. It was all I could do to hold on and keep in the saddle. I could feel warm liquid seeping between the plates of armor at my leg, though I felt no hurt. The horse was wounded, mortally so, I feared. And suddenly I found myself not seated upon him but seated on the ground. Gerbald stumbled away and fell to the ground, convulsing until he died.
I pushed myself up with my hands as I turned my head but dropped right back to the ground. Not six feet from my outstretched legs stood the warg, its claws drenched in red and its teeth dripping as it snarled.
Some say that as a man is about to meet his death, he sees every event of his life pass before his eyes in one quick flash. But it was not so, for in the instant that my gaze met that of the warg, it was as if time slowed and the world became silent. It seemed that we each watched the other for an age-or at least an hour-though in truth, it had to have been but a moment. As I stared at my death before me, my eyes caught a flash of white to the side. It drew nearer and passed between the warg and I, and I knew it for a horse. The gray horse, Arod. And when it had passed, something remained. The Elf.
The warg, momentarily set aback by Arod's charge, now gathered itself for attack. I could see each muscle tense, but the Elf between us did not move. The warg lunged high, fully intending, I'm certain, to take the Elf's head from his shoulders. But just when those teeth would have torn into his neck, the Elf's neck was no longer there. He had dropped to one knee. As he did so, he raised one hand, which now held a long white knife, the blade of which disappeared fully up under the chin of the warg. The warg, for its part, gurgled loudly and flung its claws about for but a moment before it fell limp against the Elf's shoulders. The Elf, however, did not sag, though I had felt the immense weight of the warg as its bulk had delivered Gerbald's mortal wound. The Elf merely lifted his arm higher and the warg slid off his blade and fell to the side.
One might think that time would have resumed its usual cadence at that point, as the Elf had saved my life. But as the Elf turned toward me, his hand no longer held the knife. In one smooth movement, he had drawn his bow, nocked an arrow to it and pulled. As his gaze met mine, I knew what it felt like to be an orc. Where I had seen ages in his eyes before, I now saw a ferocity so intense that the gaze alone might have stopped my heart within my chest. His countenance now matched the one I had feared when I first learned of his presence in Edoras, and I knew that my mortal danger had not yet passed.
Before I could even muster the thought of moving away, he released the arrow, and I felt its breath stir the hair at the side of my neck. But I did not feel its point. A thud sounded loud and near me, and I turned to see a mass of brown fur at my back, and the golden-feather fletching of the arrow that killed it.
Time chose that moment to return, but I found myself still lagging behind. I was still staring at the warg behind me when I heard the Elf in front of me. "Are you wounded?" he asked, his voice much more stern and hurried than earlier in the day.
My mind was still shaking off the threat of death that had been so near, and as such, I could not answer. I could only shake my head as I turned back to him.
His countenance had hardly softened and I found myself still somewhat frightened. "Then take up your blade and get to your feet!" he ordered. "The battle does not wane!" He whistled and Arod returned to him. He sprang atop him and was gone. I obeyed, joining once again the chaos and blur of the battle.
When the fight was over and the field was ours, I looked first for my King as my duty required. Finding him safe, I sought next for Yonwin, and, finding him dead, I thought of little else, except to notice the Elf also caught in grief. He gave little away to show it and I beheld him from a distance only. He stood straight as always, though his head was bent forward, looking down over a cliff-side. But when Théoden King gave orders to leave the dead upon the field, he turned his head and regarded the King with a gaze so strong I could sense it even from my place at Yonwin's side. He and I felt the same. I did not wish to leave Yonwin to Isengard's beasts that would return and devour his body. And Lord Aragorn, I would learn, had fallen from that cliff, and leaving would have meant that the Elf had to accept that there was no hope left for his companion. The King's order stood, and we left them behind, our friends and fellows. The Elf, though, would prove more fortunate than I that day, for Lord Aragorn did not die. He was saved by the waters below the cliff and met us again at Helm's Deep with grim news of the numbers that would face us. Yonwin, however, did not rise from his place on the ground and come riding to us in the evening. For me there was little joy at Lord Aragorn's return. Grim, indeed, was the news he brought us, and I was to face it without my lifelong friend.
Within the span of one day and night, though it be the longest of my life, the last vestiges of my youth were torn from me, and the game I had shared with Yonwin was thrown aside in the face of the struggle for life and death on the walls of Helm's Deep. I cannot bring myself to say more of that battle except to tell you that I marvel at my survival. And that it may well haunt me all my life.
As I stumbled through the bodies that littered the keep and the battlements, I watched my feet to mind their placing. The stones were slick with blood, and I had no wish to fall. And so it was that once again I walked into the Elf. "Are you wounded?" he asked me again, though now his eyes were once again filled with age and his voice was soft and sorrowful.
"No," I answered, having found my voice when I lost my youth. "Though I scarcely believe it possible. And what of you, Master Elf?"
He sighed and looked away, across the walls where both the free folk and the foul were scattered dead. "My only wound is in my heart, that so many have perished this night. And yet, I, too, find it a wonder that any have survived at all. And for that, my heart is also glad. It is not an easy thing, to be of two hearts in only one body."
"We would not have lasted at all without your people," I told him. "And I would not have lasted the wargs if not for you. You have my thanks, Master Elf."
I offered him my hand and he took it briefly. His grip was stronger than I might have guessed, but it was quick and did not pain me overmuch. "Live well, young one," he offered, with a slight smile to show his mirth. Then he turned and walked nimbly away to meet the Dwarf, Lord Aragorn and Gandalf. I never even learned his name.
I will say yet one other thing of Helm's Deep: that lying alongside the bodies of Men and orcs were the corpses of his people, of Elves from the very Wood we so feared. Lifetimes of memory beyond count lay lost forever upon those stones. Their immortality could not shield them from the points of arrows or the blades of knives. In that they were no different than us. Though we feared them, remembering not their alliance with Men in ages past, they came to help us, to fight and die with us, and I learned that those rumors and fairy stories I had heard of Elves were right and that they were wrong. Let us change our stories, then, to something closer to the truth. Fell and fierce Elves are as warriors, and yet they are a fair race of gentle beauty and countless age. Our fears do them not justice, though we should not think them weak for their fairness. They fade now, to myth and memory, taking their beauty and their strength, and Middle Earth shall be poorer for their passing.
copyright 2003 Gabrielle Lawson