Writer's Note: Warning, this was written while tipsy.
Mirkwood was a place of a horror, but also one of beauty, if you knew only how to see.
That was what the Mirkwood Elves told me, after I pushed and pulled from the path and into the forest beyond. They weren't above saving a lost traveler, not like the stories. No, they were wild in their eyes, but civilized in their manner. I had seen them from afar, from my home in Lake-town, but never up close. Everyone thought them beautiful but mysterious. And they were exactly that in person.
My trip into Mirkwood was to be a fatal one from the beginning, so I have much reason to thank the Wood Elves. Lake-town is known for attracting traders from all over, but that also means some disreputable types get in. I'm a young woman, and apparently that's too much for some men to handle, so I got grabbed outside a garden only a block from my home.
These traders—who were probably decent men in the morning with sick cravings by night—didn't get far with me. They tried to stash me in the forest, only to find that our rumors about the trees and the magic of it to be far from stories. No, I swear to this day that at least one tree trapped a man in its roots and didn't let him go no matter how he screamed.
It was the darkness and the climate of the forest that truly got to them though. No one's libido survives that kind of gloom, and soon I was dragged along more because I was there than for any real desire to kidnap me. And soon enough the men dragged me off the path—which I knew spelled doom—and into the depths of the forest.
The Elven king was as fierce as he was severe; the most brutally handsome face I'd ever seen. He had berries in his crown of thorns, and as he sat upon the throne he seemed to gloat at the men's cowardice, even as he looked above the proceedings. It was the Elf beside him, blond like the king but softer in face that caught my eye.
We were tossed in a dungeon, though I was given a bed and a hearth, which I suspect none of the other men had. The Elf that brought me meals three times a day seemed sympathetic, if only by his eyes, and I got the feeling they knew more about my situation than even I did. It was as comfortable as a prison can be, I imagine. If only I might know the happenings of things beyond it.
I didn't see the blond, blue-eyed Elf again until one day—time was hard to tell underground, but it must have been some days—he came to my door and unlocked it, opening it like he would for a lady with a courtly bow.
"May I escort you out, miss?" he said softly, his face and voice gentle as though he might scare me.
"What about the men?" I asked, not even realizing the question had left my lips until it was in the air.
"You need not worry about them," was all he said, and I was sure of it. His tone was final.
He walked me out of that dungeon and through corridors of dull stone into detailed hallways covered in pictures of hunts and Elves, mountains and boats, dragons and battle. I wanted to stop and stare almost every step, but the Elf with pauldrons of plated steel and a back as straight as if pulled taut by a string, never hesitated or glanced aside, and I followed.
Soon there were roots amidst the murals, and then the stone of the walls gave way to soil, and we were rising out of the earth like a root to the sky. I may have smiled like a sunflower at dawn, but the Elf's hair shown brighter than any petal. Indeed, his whole face seemed to shine, unearthly and bright. I wondered how many sunrises he had seen, and how he still managed to revel in them when even I didn't value a sunrise until I hadn't seen in weeks.
"Come, I will take you to the border."
I wanted to ask questions, wanted to know his name, his birth, the Elves of his land. I wanted to know what he knew of the forest, what happened to those hideous men, what secrets he knew after a millennia.
But one look at his face, the jaw tight and perfectly set against features delicate and strong and graceful, and I knew I couldn't. Not to someone so young and old, who was both barely adult and aged man. Elves were contradictions, I learned in that moment, in ways no Man can understand.
So we walked in silence, his ears hearing sounds I didn't know, his eyes seeing in the shadows where all I saw was black. The forest wasn't so frightening with him. No indeed, the gloom that once pervaded was now mist to feed the moss, fog to hide the width of old trees that cradled life from worms to ravens in their boughs. I could hear birdsong where I hadn't before, hear rustling from rabbits and chittering of squirrels. The tress that had seemed so oppressive as they hung over me before, now seemed to shield me from the horrors of the day.
I never did get that beautiful Elf's name, not even as he notched an arrow so smoothly it might have been a third arm, and pinned a spider that thought to disturb us through the eye. No, that blond Elf that would haunt my dreams for years to come remained as nameless as the men who had taken me. But unlike them, he would not be forgotten.
Every time I go into that forest since, I hope I will see him there though I know I won't. My life is too short to tangle with his, though I wish it weren't, deep inside. Mirkwood is no longer a place of strange sorcery—of mystical Elves and dark magic. It is a place of wonder, of a kind of misunderstood beauty, and a place where that blond Elf resides.
I would grow to be old in the shadow of the forest, knowing that the Elf would look forever the same. Did he remember, I'd wonder sometimes as I lay in the shadow of an ancient tree, heedless of the creatures on its limbs, the shadows it makes on the forest floor. I don't fear anything from this forest now, knowing that even in the darkest of places there is a light like that Elf. I wonder if I should find him to thank him for his few words, for his presence that was a comfort when I was lost. But no, I am but a blink in the eye of an Elf's life. While he may be a light in my corner, I am a shadow easily forgotten in his. So if I tell a story of a kind blue-eyed Elf, that helped a hapless traveler when she could not help herself, that is the legend he may leave upon our people, upon my grandchildren. Not his memory of me, nor my memory of his light. No, he will be the Elf children look for in the forest when they are lost, the light that leads them back out from the boughs. You cannot buy safety. You cannot buy magic. I say this often and I mean them. For I know both, and magic and safety give you one thing: relief.