Disclaimer: All familiar characters and situations are the property of JRR Tolkien, and I am merely borrowing them for a short time. This story was written for my own enjoyment and, I hope, that of the readers. I am making no money from it.
My thanks and gratitude go to my beta for this story, Lexin.
The Winter Fell and Silent: Greenleaf
'Stripped of its raiment, and its splendour gone.
Like lighted tapers in a darkened fane
The funeral candles of the Silver Wain
Now flare above the fallen year.'
JRR Tolkien, 'The Trees of Kortirion'
It was the month of Narvain, and the forest of Mirkwood lay deep in snow, although a mid-winter thaw had set the trees to dripping and filled the woods with a bone chilling mist. High on a tree-branch, a young elf sat, as still as if he had been a part of the oak itself. He was cold, tired and hungry, for he had not eaten or slept in many days, and the only water he had taken were the occasional droplets he had managed to catch on his outstretched tongue, yet this was the very condition he sought. The older elves of his father's realm, the Silvan Evyr, whose ancient tradition he was now following, had said that with enough privation of the body, the promised vision would come.
The next week would bring his begetting day and his long awaited majority. Fifty winters he had now seen. Legolas Thranduilion needed a name of his own choosing to mark his entry into adulthood, and unable to decide on one that described the purpose of his life, he had come out into the woods to seek the answer in a vision quest.
Four days and nights he had spent on the branch, with only the drip of the leaves to keep him company by day and the mournful hoot of an owl at night. Even the growling of his stomach had ceased after the first day or so, and he could no longer feel his haunches for the numbness of the long sitting. It would have to be soon now, or else he would lose consciousness and fall from the tree.
He was on the verge of giving up, when the light in the forest changed from pale grey to a reddish gold. Leaves of autumn color began to fall from the trees around him, and he smiled, entranced at the transformation. Amidst the fall he saw a bud form on a branch in front of him, and the leaf unfurled before his eyes, a tender, vivid green among the reds, golds and browns around it. This was it, he realized, and he laughed aloud for joy while he continued to watch as the time stretched out.
Abruptly, he snapped awake, to find that the temperature had dropped and a light snow had begun to fall around him. The woods were darkening in twilight. How long had he been lost in his vision? No matter. He had his answer.
"But, that's . . . daft." Thranduil sat back at his desk and stared at his hollow-eyed son in bemusement. "In case you've forgotten, your name already is Greenleaf. How can you call yourself Greenleaf Greenleaf? The elves of this realm will think that, that . . ."
"They will think that I am a simpleton, no doubt. But since they already think I am a simpleton, I really do not care."
"Nonsense, no one thinks you are a simpleton," Thranduil said impatiently. "Come, Legolas, you are tired, hungry and not yourself. Here, have a little water, " he said, holding out a glass from the flask of spring water on his desk. "Not too much at first. You will make yourself ill. Blasted Avorren custom! I knew I should never have let you do it."
"It is good that I should follow the ways of our people, and this was the result I got. What can I tell you?" Legolas said, shrugging. He took the glass and sipped carefully. "Don't you see, Ada? The green leaf budding in autumn -- that was me!" His father looked at him with some alarm, and Legolas had to agree. He was, indeed, feeling a little light-headed.
"That name has been with you since birth, and I see it calls to you strongly, " Thranduil said at last. "I suppose I must accept it. As I did before."
"No one need know, except for those closest to our family, and that is very few save you and I. It is my very own chosen name after all. My Chosen-name will be Calenlas. Unless you would like me to put it into another tongue such as Westron."
"Westron? Ai, Rodyn! You might as well suggest Khuzdul or the Black Speech. Calenlas will be fine, or maybe Lasgalen. We will work it out later. Meanwhile, I suggest you go and refresh yourself with some food and a warm fire. You look exhausted, my son."
"Aye, Adar, I will do as you say. A hot bath would be nice."
Thranduil smiled, a little too brightly. "Good boy. Go see to yourself. And, Legolas . . .? If you should see Galion on the way to your room, tell him to bring me some wine."
Before he reached the door to his own bedchamber, Legolas turned aside. He knew it was useless to knock for she would never hear it. He opened the door carefully and peeked around it. There she was, dozing in a chair before the fire, wrapped in a quilt she had fashioned for herself out of fabric scraps. Patchwork, she had called it.
"Is that you, Tamin?" she called out.
Legolas's breath caught in his throat. The old mortal fowler, Tamin, had died in his sleep the previous autumn, and the elves had taken his body back to be buried on the small island where his hut had once stood. His wife had swiftly failed then, and the healers had told Legolas that, with the way of a mated pair of the Edain, she would most likely not last out the winter.
"No, Tulie. It is your Legolas."
"Ah, little one! Are you back from the forest? Did you find your name?"
Legolas smiled. How strange that she could forget about the death of her husband yet remember her young charge's daily doings. The fire had died down, so he went to add more wood. "Yes, I found my name," he said as he threw on the logs and sat down at her feet to enjoy the warmth of the blaze for himself.
"Well, what was it?"
"Green leaf," he laughed and told her about his vision. "Poor Ada thinks that I have lost my wits."
'Your ada loves you very much, Legolas, "she said, with the simple directness of old age. "Green leaf. It makes perfect sense to me. You are the young leaf, born to your people in the fading of their years. Had you asked me in the first place, I could have given you that name myself, and you could have saved yourself a good chilling."
"I suppose you are right, Tulie, although the time alone did me good. There are parts of the vision that still puzzle me, but out in the woods there came upon me a clarity of thought that I would not have forgone for all the comforts of this warm palace." He laid his head against her knee and felt the chill of the forest begin to leave him. He started to feel drowsy, and he fought it. "I should leave you now, Tulie, and go bathe. It has been many days, and I fear I must smell."
"Oh, pish!" she said. "No matter how long you go without bathing, you never smell of anything worse than wet leaves, little one. Now, my Tamin, after three days out in the swamps -- there was a manly smell! Like to knock me over when he came up the path and in the door, but I never minded. To me, it was the scent of homecoming." She paused and began to stroke his hair absently. "He has been gone a long time, this time. Do you know when he will be back, my Tamin?"
Legolas tensed imperceptibly and sighed. "Soon, Tulie. Soon."
"Good, because I would not want him to miss the celebration of your coming of age next week. Tell me again, Legolas, what color are you going to wear?"
He laughed. "Green. What other color do I ever wear? But this time, to please you and my ada, it will be a tunic of deep forest green velvet."
"With gems on the collar?"
"Yes, Tulie; gems on the collar and silver embroidery on the sleeves. For this one time, I will deck myself out like the Solstice tree. I must wear something fine to match that crown my ada is giving me."
"You aren't supposed to know about that, little one. It's a surprise," she said fondly.
"There are no secrets in a cave full of chattering elves," he replied. He paused and then sighed. "I just know it is going to make me look like a girl when I wear it."
"It means much to him, Legolas. It was his circlet when he was prince, so many years ago, or so Saerlin tells me."
"I know, Tulie. I also know that it made him look like a girl when he wore it. Galion told me that." Legolas laughed. The idea of his magnificent father looking like a girl was hard to credit.
"You hair is wet," she said, pausing in her stroking.
"I know. It was snowing outside, and now it melts."
"Let me undo your braids, or they will dry that way and knot." He nodded his assent, and she removed the ties and began to undo the plaits. "How I love to run my fingers through your soft hair, little one. Acch, these clumsy old hands of mine! They are no longer nimble enough to do your braids as once I did. Now, they are only fit to take them out."
He caught her hand quickly and brought the knarled fingers to his lips. "It matters not, Nana guren. You were the first to give me my braids, and I will ever think of you when I plait my hair, now that I am old enough to do it for myself."
"A sweet thought, my Legolas. I will tell Tamin what you said when he comes home. It has been long, and I do so look forward to seeing him. He has been gone so long, and I miss him, my Tamin . . ." Her weary voice drifted off.
Legolas sighed and held her hand against his cheek. Soon her breathing slowed into the even cadence of sleep. A pleasant fatigue was overtaking him too, and he watched the dying fire through lowered lids. There was no need to get up and move. Not really.
A burnt ember flared briefly and then subsided. There had been another part to his vision in the forest; one he had not shared with his father, nor would he share it with Tulie, for it was disturbing and he did not wish to cause either of them pain or worry.
The tender leaf had unfurled while those around it fell in their golden splendor, and he had laughed for the joy of it. But then, the light had darkened and a blast of cold winter air had come out of the west, nipping the leaf with an early frost and withering it as it stood forth on its branch. He had heard a voice in his mind, intoning the words of a prophecy he had read on an old scroll in his father's library:
Winter is come. Beneath the barren sky
The Elves are silent. But they do not die!
Here waiting they endure the winter fell
And silence. Here I too will dwell;
. . . I will meet the winter here.
Was this to be his strange fate he mused? Had he been born into the fading years of his people for a purpose as yet unknown, to blaze as brightly as a candle in the moment before it dies, and then to be extinguished? If so, he resolved to play it out with grace and the courage that should be his by birthright. In time, all would be revealed. For now, he rested, content, for however short it might be, this was his springtime.
Author's Notes: The character of Tulie was introduced in 'To Wrap an Elven Princeling' for those interested in learning how she came to be a special figure in Legolas's life.
This story is my humble attempt to explain a strange piece of canon: the name 'Legolas Greenleaf' which appears in Galadriel's poetic prophesy and in the index of ROTK. It is not his last name, as some have erroneously supposed, but it must have some meaning, and I think this is as good an explanation as any.
Both poetry quotes are from JRR Tolkien's 'The Trees of Kortirion,' a haunting poem which may be found in The Book of Lost Tales. I highly recommend it.
Evyr: Sindarin for Avari
Rodyn: Sindarin for Valar, the gods
Edain: the race of Men
Nana Guren: Hearts's mother, a term of endearment