Woodland Twilight

(This is a work of fan fiction, inspired works of J R R Tolkien; his characters, settings, places, and languages used in this tale are not mine. Original characters do belong to me. I receive nothing but my own pleasure (and I hope that of my readers) for this work. The work is my intellectual property, is available only for the private enjoyment of its readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.)

1. First Kiss

The windless nights of heat and humidity had disappeared from one day to the next. The unexpected respite from the suffocating clamminess of deep woodlands in high summer intensified their pleasure in the dry breezes of this warm starlit night. They advanced with light footsteps on the leaves along the track leading through the forest to the large clearing that lay before the dwellings of the Mirkwood Elven community, which clustered around the entrance to the caverns of King Thranduil. They made one last circle of the required checkpoints along the perimeter of their assigned territory.

Finally, staying within the deep shadow of the trees, they chose a spot on the path into the settlement where they would stop for the remainder of the night watch. The last shafts of sunlight illuminated a cool, green and peaceful space, revealing a fallen tree that could provide a welcome seat. Dropping themselves onto the log, they stretched their legs in front of them and sighed in unison, and then laughed softly at the unintentional concurrence of their mannerisms.

The bone structures of the Elves' fair faces showed traces of a not so distant but seldom considered kinship. There were few without some blood ties to others in their insular community but many families were more closely linked than theirs. Their nearly identical physiques--broad shouldered, long of leg, muscular, lean and supple--were ethnic rather than familial resemblances. Despite facial similarities, each had a distinct coloring. Túgann had grayish green eyes, dark hair and a light sprinkling of freckles across the nearly translucent skin of his cheeks and forearms. Legolas had his father's unusual golden hair and high-colored complexion. He was full-lipped for Elf, but his wide set eyes and higher forehead gave him a more ethereal look than that of King Thranduil.

The northern twilight, which seemed to go on for hours this time of year, was finally fading into night. Barely visible here and there through the foliage the glowing horizon had at last turned from deepening shades of rose to purple. The two Elves settled in for a quiet night. They were unlikely to have anything more to do during their watch except to remain alert and listen for the approach of any intruder or signs of unusual activity in the forest. With their youthful vitality, knowledge of the forest, and Elvish faculties of keen hearing and sight, this would tax them little. Despite their awareness of the external dangers to their well-hidden community, and their intense training in defense, their limited experience of sentry duty had conditioned them to view this responsibility as that of little more than glorified doormen for returning kinfolk. Such travelers rarely appeared after the dinner hour.

They were, however, intelligent enough to recognize that their knowledge was inferior to that which their elders had gained through centuries of experience and, therefore, trusted to discipline and confidence in the judgment of their seniors to guide them in the exercise of their duty. Keeping that in mind, neither removed his leather quiver of arrows, for comfort, nor lay aside his bow. The part of Northern Mirkwood protected by Elven magic (and the relentless use of military force) remained so vast that the larger part of the forest, which had been overwhelmed and poisoned by dark forces, seemed far-off when one assumed close-in guard duty like tonight.

While the world had darkened year by year and fear had fallen on Middle-earth, within the hard-won sanctuary of Thranduil's stronghold, their childhoods had seemed remote from trouble. The movement and consolidation, under Thranduil's leadership, of a large population of Silvan Elves into a protected enclave in Northern Mirkwood had been a massive organizational and military exercise that had dominated community life for years. These young adults did not remember those days. Their everyday existence seemed predictable to these youth and their rigorous military training as much a part of their lives as any other aspect of their education. They acknowledged the danger that surrounded them as an unexceptional reality similar to that of the changing of the seasons. They were aware that evil now encroached upon the land their fathers had claimed through much sacrifice and hardship, and that even the most fiercely independent of the free colonies beyond the woodlands enjoyed only a tentative peace at best.

Sons of Mirkwood nobility, they heard more than their share of whispers, rumor and brutal information regarding the world beyond the confines of Mirkwood and the inevitability of a climactic clash with Mordor. With the passage to maturity, they knew that responsibility to defend their homes would increase and send them farther into blighted areas of the forest. But, as the future often seems to the very young, that time seemed distant as yet.

Educated in classic Sindarin history and tradition, their social and cultural influences were nonetheless strongly Silvan. As a result, they would not spend time brooding that summer night. It was not long before Túgann took up his familiar role of entertainer and jester. Legolas chuckled at his spirited and shockingly irreverent, if implicitly affectionate, imitation of Túgann's mother's dressing-down of the numerous young Elves of their crowded merry household. "Out! Out now! Or I will lash every last one of you until you wish you were not immortal!" Túgann's exaggeratedly shrewish shrieks, accompanied by spitting and heavy breathing, much heaving of chest and head tossing, were especially hilarious to Legolas whose only vision of his friend's mother had been the public persona of an elegant Elven noblewoman of apparent serenity and pride. Túgann laughed at himself and added, "It might be more effective if were not for the fact that she has never struck any of us! I presume that with her tongue it is not necessary!" Just then, they heard a soft rustling nearby, definitely Elven and not a forest beast or worse. Perhaps it was one of those notoriously mischievous Elf-children of Túgann's family sneaking up on them now. It would not have been the first time.

"Shhh!" their intruder whispered. "I don't think I was followed here, but I can never be certain." Túgann's sister parted the branches and settled down on the mossy tree-trunk between the two Elves with the self-assurance of certain welcome. Gellwen had the same laughing eyes and wide smile as her brother, but purely black hair. Raised in a family of beautiful women, where intelligence was prized above appearance, she had no air of female vanity about her.

Finally, after looking behind and around her while holding her finger to her lips, she seemed to accept that no sibling or neighbor had followed her on her short walk and addressed her brother: "You are so fortunate to be here tonight. The twins spilled honey on our father's writing table. Mother had warned father all day to clear it off 'before something is spoiled!' The poor wee creatures are yowling like scalded cats now, the girls are cowering in the back bedroom, mother is haranguing father, and father is raging at everyone and no one. So, I escaped."

These young people had known each other since early childhood. Although Gellwen had been often in his company, she did not recall having exchanged more than a few words with Legolas over those years. Both were aware of the other's interest, however. In Thranduil's kingdom, where the population of youngsters was proportionally greater than in any other Elven community, education was equally available to all Elven offspring, irrespective of background, birth or sex and no youth of similar age were strangers.

Legolas looked first at one and then the other of this good-natured, loquacious pair, thinking he would be willing to exert much effort to cultivate their friendship. He was pleased when he had recently been assigned regular patrol duties with Túgann. He presumed that the siblings, although known to be liberally friendly to all, had not sought many close friendships outside of their household, crowded as it was with an extended family young and old. Even among the Mirkwood Elven community, known to be more prolific than others, their family had continued to produce offspring with oft-noted regularity. He had heard his father express the opinion that it was a laudable optimism that incited their desire for children in these dark days. A fierce, stubborn love of Arda and the Great Forest united Thranduil's people. Many of the older Sindarin elements of Mirkwood, actually held themselves somewhat apart from Túgann and Gellwen's family, due to its Noldorin roots, suspecting an arrogance, which, in fact, had never been demonstrated. Ancient mistrust died hard among the elders, but the young were more aware of currently shared commitment and joys.

The boisterous turmoil punctuated by laughter that he heard whenever he walked past their dwelling, awakened in him a longing for close siblings and a more informal household. His father's house, the cavern fortress palace of the Elven King of Mirkwood, was far too somber—magnificent, but not homey. Spacious enough to hold the entire community during a state of siege, its stonewalls, gloomy to him despite carvings of nature and trees and bright sumptuous hangings, were an unnatural setting for any Elf. Legolas, in contrast to the exuberant Túgann, had been a thoughtful, shy Elf-child. A natural reticence, combined with his position as the youngest but only surviving son of King Thranduil, had meant he had found himself often on the fringes of the inspired silliness and mischievous play endemic among woodland Elf-children. As he had grown older he had excelled in military skills and become more articulate and less reserved. Those qualities along with his generous good nature and modesty had lately gained him a comfortable acceptance by his peers. He was no longer referred to as "the Prince," but simply "Legolas."

"Does mother know you left?" Túgann asked his sister.

"No, but I bribed the girls to say I am sleeping if she does come snooping about. But I do not want to talk of that madhouse right now. Is not the night lovely? How I wish it had been like this on Midsummer's Night. It was so muggy, hot and disgusting. And my first one on my own too! The sky was so overcast you could not even see the stars. How romantic! I might as well have been home playing nursemaid to the little ones."

At her reference to the festival night, Legolas recalled how he had managed only one dance with Gellwen. Hoping for a tender ballad and the chance to hold her in his arms, he was disappointed by one of those bouncing reels where he was only able to occasionally catch her hand for a few seconds. Worse still, although the tune was spirited, its verses were a mournful complaint harking back to lost times before those dreadful days of exile and death when the Silvan Elves fled north. How could he flirt with the pretty Gellwen when his eyes were drawn with concern to his father's face so saddened by the simple song? When he saw that single tear slide down the King's cheek?

Oh, the days of the Greenwood dancing,
Oh, the ring of the piper's tune,
Oh, for one of those hours of gladness,
Gone, alas, like our youth, too soon.

Time goes on, and the happy years are dead
And one by one the merry hearts are fled.
Silent now is the wild and lonely glen,
Where the bright glad laugh will echo ne'er again.

Only dreaming of days gone by in my heart I hear
Loving voices of lost companions
Stealing out of the past once more
And the sound of the dear old music
Soft and sweet as in days of yore.

When the Wood Elves began to gather
In the glen of a summer's night
And the Greenwood piper's tuning
Made us long with wild delight!

Oh, to think of it,
Oh, to dream of it,
Fills my heart with tears!

Oh, the days of the Greenwood dancing
Oh, the ring of the piper's tune . . .

And he had watched older Elves (Greenwood survivors all) file by to console Thranduil--a touch on the shoulder by his Sindarin kin or a full body hug from the Silvan elders. They knew, as did Legolas, that Thranduil held himself responsible for every life lost. Though the Silvan Elves suffered grievous losses, Thranduil's companions of those days credited his leadership for their very survival and their growing population here in the North. Then, while Legolas still had his eyes fixed on the dais, the dance had ended and Gellwen had been quickly swept away by another partner.

The hearty voice of Túgann drew Legolas back from his reverie, saying, "Sister, I told you that if you smile, flutter your eyelashes and toss your hair, every unattached male will be aware of you. Although, you might consider not starting every conversation by reminding them that you are the better archer."

Legolas thought that, although the festival night was not what he or Gellwen had hoped, tonight might be a second chance for him. "Gellwen, even an admirer who is not threatened by your skills as an archer might find your beauty intimidating," he ventured with mock seriousness. "And your father is notoriously protective of his daughter. You were definitely an enchantress in your blue dress and long dark hair that night."

"Ah! Ha! Fond memories of raven tresses and a flowing blue gown! See, I told you that you were admired. I wager Legolas would be more than willing to give you your first kiss without delay. Would you not, comrade?"

Gellwen was near to tears or rage now and could barely choke out, "Stop it! You are humiliating me!" when Legolas took her hand softly in the dark.

Teasingly directing his comment at Túgann, Legolas said, "Pay no note of him, Gellwen, we can more comfortably discuss this matter another time without your brother's participation." All three laughed, his remark breaking the tension. But, unknown to Gellwen's brother, he did not release her hand.

The evening remained quiet. As the hours passed, they argued over versions of Elven lore and shared their stories of family foibles, with a seasoning of local gossip, laughing easily and often. Túgann mimicked more acquaintances. Gellwen occasionally corrected his choice of vocabulary, "for the sake of accuracy," she said, but never his tone. Even Legolas attempted a sober, but effective impersonation of his father sounding regal, which was met with good-natured, if impudent, howls.

Gellwen was pleased that she was able to speak and laugh naturally, as though nothing were different or extraordinary when, in fact, ever aware of Legolas' touch, there was a spectacularly riotous Midsummer Night's festival raging in her heart. For his part, Legolas was unable for a moment to forget her closeness, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her developing womanliness. Gellwen was convinced that her brother had no idea of the feelings stirring within her, which brought a crimson blush to her cheeks, opportunely unseen in the now near total darkness. She cherished the delicious bit of privacy the forest shadows gave her, as she recently had begun to think that Túgann knew far too much about her. There were disadvantages for an Elf maiden to have an older brother as one's closest friend and confidant.

It was near midnight, when they thought they heard a twig crack nearby. Because they had been laughing, they were uncertain of its origin. Their voices unconsciously lowered after that incident and the conversation drifted naturally to darker matters--the dangers to their hidden life, the ominous forces surrounding them and to what degree they could or should intervene to affect the outcome. Túgann took the somewhat isolationist defensive position, whereas Legolas favored looking outward, intervening to affect history. Legolas explained that he shared his father's sense of responsibility to protect "my people" (the term Thranduil always used to refer to the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood). Gellwen listened and then said she believed that the Mirkwood Elves could never accept that Sauron might be undefeatable and choose to blindly live out their last days hoping for peace before succumbing to destruction. "We will defend ourselves until the time for the final struggle. But, in this age, Elves must bring the wisdom gained in past struggles. It will be our duty to give our arms and lives to the coming war against Sauron. But never again will the victory be ours alone to win. We must be but one force amongst allies. This will be a different war. There will be no neutrals," she said. Both Legolas and Túgann contemplated Gellwen's words in silence.

Realizing how late it was she regretfully rose to go home. Legolas offered to walk with her and Túgann was easily persuaded to take the first watch. Legolas led Gellwen through the forest, gallantly holding branches and bushes aside and half-lifting her over every rock and gully, although both realized that she almost certainly knew the paths as well as he did. Much too quickly they covered the short distance to the moonlit clearing in the forest near the entrance to her family's dwellings, Gellwen turned to Legolas and said with a conspiratorial smile, "I'll walk from here alone. It would not be good for my parents to hear us, you know." She reached up to give him a farewell kiss on the cheek, when he placed his bow arm around her waist, pulled her closer to him and touched her cheek, turning her mouth to his. Kissing her gently he felt her respond, if tentatively. He released her and looked smiling into her eyes and asked, "May I give you a true kiss?" Up on her toes immediately, she placed her arms around his neck and said, "Yes, please."

When Legolas returned to their watch point in the woods, Túgann immediately demanded, "Well, tell me, did my sister finally get her first kiss?"

"She did, as you knew she would."

"I thought it would be so. You are a brave Elf. Many before you have been captivated by her, but afraid to dare a kiss."

"I had not the sense to be afraid," Legolas said with a humorless chuckle and an unfathomable sigh.

"Legolas Greenleaf son of Thranduil, tell me what happened. I know you are withholding something. You must tell me what. I trusted you with my sister, as my friend. What did you do?" Túgann demanded, with an undertow of fear seeping into his voice.

"No. No. Nothing happened. I kissed Gellwen as I have kissed many girls, but then…" Legolas paused drawing a deep breath, "I kissed her again just once, but everything transformed. It was surprising and wonderful, dreamlike. I spoke to her of love."

"Well, did she like it?" Túgann asked, relieved that Legolas' obvious apprehension was caused by what he interpreted as his more serious friend's exaggerated sensitivity to customs and mores.

Legolas softly answered, "Yes, she did."

Above lyrics areofa traditional Irish folksong, with slight changes. It seemed to have been written for Mirkwood. Oh, those merry Wood Elves dancing in the shadow of past losses and almost certain doom.