Entling-- Chapter 16: The Valley

"Yes, I am back," I told him, and kissed him gently on the nose.

"But you were dead," he said, and his sweet brow furrowed and he held me at arm's length. "You were dead, Entling."

"I came back."

He did not speak again, only looked at me, and something behind his eyes flickered like a door closing at the end of a long hall.

* * *

We continued our journey the next morning. Eldarion kept staring at me, long, hard gazes, as though to drink me in with his eyes. He barely dared touch me at all, as thought afraid I might disappear.

We had left the desert behind-- or nearly. I did not look back. After a long time of walking, there began to be grass-- short, stunted, brown grass, that reminded me of the trees at home. They soughed beneath my feet, and whispered in jagged, tough voices. As we walked, it grew thicker-- now a carpet of longer stems, but still…tainted. I felt a pressing on my head, as a band of steel behind my eyes.

"They are in pain, Eldarion," I told him, kneeling and touching a stem. "They have been blighted by something terrible…I do not know what curse, but it has near withered their roots."

"And yet they grow," he said, softly as though to himself. "They have such strength…"

"Have you never seen moss grow between barren rock, Eldarion?" I replied, still cupping the blade of grass. "Have you never seen trees grow where the soil is so dry it raises dust when you walk? Have you never seen how tall an oak may grow if you let it rise?" I stood and stared past him, imagining my mother in the distance-- a tree, whose roots grew into the deeps of the earth and whose branches held the very firmament of sky…

"Entling?" His voice was as an anchor, calling me back to earth. His eyes were wide. "You…what happened?"

"I…" I looked at my hands, feeling green fire flicker and fade at the edges of my vision. "I do not know, Eldarion…"

And I looked at him, hoping he would hold me in his arms for this moment. He did not meet my eyes.

* * *

On the fifth day after my return there was a tree. It was a small one, a sapling, but it was there-- and its leaves were green and full. There was no shadow nor blight in any branch, and the sough of wind between its leaves carried no trace of cursed distress, nor smell of smoke.

Where are all the rest-- the trees, the flowers? I asked it, silently, standing in the carpet of grass and feeling the tree's rough bark.

They were here long ago, it replied, and it sounded lonely, and forlorn. And then they were gone, and I grew after long years had passed…there was much sorrow here.

Grow in peace, I told it, softly, and pressed my cheek against the trunk. And others will join you.

* * *

Then there was a garden: a soft garden, lush and carpeted with starflowers. In the distance rose two mountains, high and tall. Here at last the shadow was behind us: I felt a pressure ease, and took a breath of the sweet air. But something still was amiss.

"The air," Eldarion said quietly, the first words he had spoken in hours. "It feels as though we are in water that has been still too long."

The starflowers beneath my feet waved in complacent bliss. There was a scent of myrrh on the air: here was peace, a refuge. But what is there to hide from?

And then I saw the distant figures walking towards us, with the long stately strides of the Ents.

"They are here, Eldarion," I told him, and reached for his hand.

He paused, hesitated-- and then took it, and our eyes met again.

* * *

Who are you?

I am the daughter of the one who made you, the one called Kementari.

She has no daughter.

I am her daughter.

Why do you come here, then, to disturb our peace?

Your time here is over, Onodrim…it is your time to return. For the land is blighted and the trees long for their shepherds: and the shepherds pine for you. Too long have you spent here, never growing.

We will not leave our sanctuary.

Then the land will die, and never know your kind again.

So mote it be.

Do you not care anymore? Have you spent so long in stagnant twilight that you have forgotten the feel of the sun on your faces?

And one stepped forward, her golden hair like flax, her eyes the hazel of leafy trees.

I am called Fimbrethil. She took a breath, and a soft cold breeze began to blow, ruffling the starflower and dispersing the perfume that hung over the valley like a cloud. I have forgotten Fangorn…

Remember now, Fimbrethil…

I remember.

* * *