Somewhen, the most unlikely friendship had been formed. Bard had missed it. But one day, during a visit in the palace of the Elvenking, his daughter appeared in his room, dragging the very elf himself behind her with her little hand and declared, they were going to take care of the woods. He hurried himself to accompany the odd expedition for he could possibly not let the Elvenking babysit his children. Especially, if those spoken of, lacked every manner, obviously. It had been kind of embarassing and he appologized multiple times, but Thranduil had just smiled and said, he didn't mind and that had been the end of it and the beginning.
"Oh look" Tildas voice was sad. She reached out and stroked gently over the soft ears of a rabbit, lying motionless at the ground. They had been walking for an hour by now and were quite a distance away from the palace. Tilda had pointed at this and that and asked about everything and nothing and the Elvenking had answered every ridiculous question briefly, but patiently. Bard was rather amazed.
"It is dead."
Thranduil had stopped now and looked down at the small animal. "Yes."
"It has been ill."
Tilda looked up to him with wide, pleading eyes and Bard felt almost an intruder. "Can you make it alive again?", she whispered.
Thranduil lowered himself and took her hand in his, pulled it away from the lifeless form. "No."
"But.. ", she had tears in her eyes, then defiance. "I know you can."
"Yes. But it would be wrong."
"It is not right!"
He tilted his head. "In nature, nothing is right and nothing is wrong. All there is, just is. Right and wrong is made by men. And Elves. And Gods."
"But you are an elf!" The accuse echoed through the trees and seemed to go on in Bards head long after the words had been spoken. Make it right. I know you can.
Tilda sniffled and looked at the Elvenking in a strange way and Bard saw, that it made sense in a six year old mind, where his own was struggeling. Thranduil caressed a tear off her cheek, pulled her up and back on their path, her little hand in his own again.
"You are the wood", she said after a while. It was not a question.
Thranduil smiled. "Yes. Sometimes."
Bard felt more and more off track. In more than one way. He stepped over a trunk at the ground and shoveled his way through almost knee deep fallen leaves. Obviously this wasn't the route for a Sunday stroll.
Meanwhile Tilda had spotted a single very little white flower. It grew out of a half rotten log and looked somehow misplaced and lost. She stood and looked around, studying the surrounding trees and looked back at the flower.
"The wood is ill."
"Very ill." Thranduil reached out, plucked it and put it in her hair.
"It is wrong."
"That is right."
By now, Bard had serious problems to follow the mismatched pair in front of him. Spiritually as well, as physically. Although Tildas legs were much shorter, she moved much faster, than he could. Where he almost had to cut through the undergrowth, her feet found a path that seemed to disappear the moment, her foot left the ground. Bard tried to actually watch it, but he couldn't. He cursed as his coat got caught in a branch and he fell flat on his face. When he lifted his head and spat out the dirt, two little feet stood in front of him and his daughter offered him her hand.
"Don't be mad at him Dad. He forgot about you, he wasn't here."
"What do you mean, he wasn't here? He was, and there he stands." And he did, watching them, looking as misplaced and lost as the flower, all alone, from under the dark fading trees.
"That is an elf."
And that settled it for her and she went back to take his hand and save him.
This story intrigued me somehow. It started out with a completely different title and an idea that didn't even made it into it. And it won't. While I was working into the direction I originally planned, the last sentence wrote itself and I couldn't go on. After that, there was just nothing left to be said. And so it ended.
.. and began :-) I found, there is a lot more in this, so I decided to write a second chapter. Something, I hardly ever do. And here it is. Maybe, there will be even more. There is potential.
As always: English isn't my first language. I am sorry, if it sucks, there is no one here to tell me but Google. And I don't trust Google. No one should, really.
Be frank. But be nice.
Bard dreaded the farewell scene, he was about to attend. He had rarely seen his daughter the last few days because she had been following the Elvenking whenever it was possible. The both of them had spent lots of time in the gardens and once, he had found her sitting crosslegged on his desk while he had been writing. The top of it and the floor had been littered with small, different coloured birds made out of paper. There had been no sound to be heard, but the scratching of his quill and the rustling of folding sheets. Thranduil had lifted his head as he stood in the door and had waved him silently away. The smile on his face had been so serenely beautiful, it had made his heart ache.
Oh, how he dreaded it.
Tildas lips were trembling. She stepped forward and raised her head up to look into her new friends face. It was still a somehow comical sight to behold. She was half his size.
"I want to stay here with you."
Thranduil smiled gently at her. "Oh, but you do."
She frowned. "No I do not. I will ride home."
He stepped closer and touched her hair. "Where is your flower?"
Tilda pulled something out of her pocket and showed the little white flower to him, he had given to her in the woods. It was dry and crumpled. Her look was full of regret. "I cannot put it in my hair anymore."
Thranduil looked at it for a while. Then he leaned slowly down and blew at her hand and the flower glowed and became alive, once more.
Tilda stared at it. "But you said, that was wrong."
"It is. I am a selfish elf. I want something to be right." He took it out of her hand and put it in her hair again. "Take care for it and it will not fade this time."
"For as long, as you will not forget it."
She took his hand in her so much smaller ones. "I will remember."
"That makes me happy."
Tilda smiled up at him, then she seemed to have an idea. She gripped back into her bottomless pockets and this time, she pulled out one of the paper-birds she had made. Bard had to admit, it was a really artful work. Especially in regard, it had been made by a six year old. She held it up to the elf in front of her.
"I can make nothing alive. But maybe you will remember me as well, if you can look at it."
He took it very carefully out of her hand and straightened up again. "That I will. I thank you very much."
Bard felt a lump in his throat and cleared it. He hated to interrupt the scene in front of him, but they had to go. "We should leave. I have no idea how long it will take until we make it home. You know, most recently, the wood has something against me."
Tilda rolled her eyes. "That is not right, Dad." She walked over to her father and stretched out her arms for him to lift her up onto his horse. Bard started to feel a headache. He wasn't able to take another prolonged conversation of this kind.
"Could you please stop this 'right and wrong talk'. It drives me insane."
He would swear, the corner of Thranduils mouth twitched and he turned the horse to leave.
"You are wrong, Tilda", his voice stopped him again and Bard sighed and pinched his nose.
Tilda looked slightly unsettled back at the Elvenking. He held the little bird to his chest.
"You can make some things alive, very much."
As I said. It intrigued me.
Twelve years had passed since that heartful farewell and Tilda never forgot, as she promised. She had begged her father until he crafted her a little wooden box, where she could place the little flower in. She painted it with little birds and leaves and there went no day, that she didn't open its lid to look at it. Sometimes, she caressed it gently and spoke to it. Told it her worries, her adventures, her heart. And the flower lived on, as Thranduil had promised her. Sometimes she thought, it seemed as if it glowed, just a little. Once in a while, she put it in her hair again and went to the single oak, that grew outside of Dale. There was no wood around, just rocks and little bushes. Then she laid down beneath it, breathed in the so much lighter air, touched its green leaves, the rough bark. And she felt all her sorrows leaving her, she felt calm, free and so alive. And she remembered.
She remembered his smile and the way he approvingly looked at her, when she spoke her thoughts. Silly, childish thoughts her brother and father laughed about. But he didn't. He understood. And she had looked back and into his heart. And she had understood as well. She had heard many people speak of him before. They had spoken of an ancient warlord. A ruthless king. A cold hearted elf with a temper a lot of people feared. She never met the elf, these men spoke about. She had just seen wisdom and sorrow and loneliness. A soul with a burden, nobody was able to comprehend. She had understood and he had known and taken comfort in it. And she had been so happy, that she had something to give to him and had delighted in his smiles and their light hearted days in the gardens. She had been just a little girl then and had been able to give something to the great Elvenking, he really enjoyed and needed. She had felt important, for once. She had tried to make her own little garden back in Dale. It was hard work and it was a bad copy of the Elvenkings gardens, but whenever she was in it and took care of it, she thought of him and their days and was at ease. It had become her little retreat.
The years had gone by and sometimes she caught herself remembering things, she never thought of a lot before. She remembered his smile, yes, but differently. She remembered the curve of his mouth when he did, and the color of his eyes. A very bright shade of grey and blue. And something in her chest trembled. She didn't understand. She frowned at the flower and thought of his hand in her hair and his own hair, long and silver, like silk. She had played with it then, dragging her little hands through it and marvelling at the feeling of it. Now she wished, she could do it again. The moment, she realized the kind of her thoughts, she blushed and closed the lid abruptly. This was wrong. So very wrong.
She stopped to open the box that day. Whenever she looked at it, she felt guilty and sick in her stomach. She seemed to be unable, to think of him the way she did before and she felt, like she had lost a part of herself. It didn't give her comfort anymore. Instead it hurt. She begged, he wouldn't notice. She had never seen him again after that week in the palace, but she knew somehow, the flower was telling him everything, he wanted to know. It was a part of the wood, still. And he was the wood. Sometimes. He was the wood, an elf, a king and thousands of years old. He had blessed her with his friendship. And she felt undeserving, once again. She was nothing and she had spoiled his memory. She couldn't open that lid and face him.
She was moody the next weeks. Her brother ragged her about something completely stupid and she almost went for his throat. Her father studied her wordlessly at the meals. Gladly, her sister wasn't there anymore, she maybe could have drawn womanly conclusions. But she was wedded since a few years to a noble man from Gondor and had left the family. She was a mother to two little boys by now. Tilda herself was not interessted in marriage. She knew, she was a princess, sort of, but she didn't like the idea of being wedded to some man she didn't even knew. Gladly, her father didn't force her. He was her father, and a king to his people, he surely could. But she was his nestling. She had a bonus. Bain hadn't married, yet, so that was more important, than her own marital status. And they had not to worry about food and getting over the winter anymore, so she was spared. At least until now. No, she didn't want any unknown man or these boys of Dale. She had once let one of them kiss her. He had been the son of the blacksmith and she had been curious. He had been sweet to her and was quite good looking with his long lashes, blond hair and lean but strong build. But that had been all. It had felt as if she had kissed her brother. He could not compare to.. no. She winced when her thoughts were going down the same wrong track again. She knew, why she'd chosen the blacksmiths son. As if she could delude herself anymore. But he wasn't him and never would be. No one would ever be. Ever.
That night, she dreamt of him. His hand in hers. His smell, like freshly cut grass and green leaves, a morning in an untouched field of wild flowers. His lips at her cheek, brushing the corner of her mouth. Gods, he was so unearthly beautiful. She awoke feeling torn inside and cried until dawn when she had to get up, utterly tired and run down. This time, her father commented on it but she told him, it was nothing. And it was. It had to be. And still, it had been the first night of many to follow. Some of them, she was too ashamed to look at herself in the mirror the next morning. She couldn't count how often she whispered his name, how often she cried herself to sleep. How often she wished for his arms to hold her. For his voice to comfort her. His nose at her neck, his hands at her face, him being close. At night, hidden in the dark, she was his. In daylight, she was nothing. It went on for months. She barely ate and her father told her, she was wasting away. She couldn't get herself to care.
One day she stared into the water tub at her reflection and barely recognized herself. Her cheeks were hollow, and she looked, as if she hadn't slept for weeks. Well, she hadn't. Not really. That day she took out the box from under her bed again and held it in her hands. Somehow she felt better, just looking at it. Three days later she decided, she wanted to open it again and so she did. She felt her heartbeat in her throat while she did, and when she was able to take a glimpse at the little white flower again for the first time in five months, she felt it literally stop. A leaf had fallen off and it looked weak, it looked mortal. And that was wrong. She felt tears in her eyes. "No, please. I am sorry..". Carefully, she took it out and touched it with her lips. "I am sorry. I did not forget. I could never forget you. I never will." The flower of course, didn't respond. Tilda was horrified. What had she done? And she broke. She cried, like she never did before, the sobs wrecking her body, threatening to break it. She cried, until she ran out of tears. When she came back to herself, she found her father in her door, studying her and the still open box in her hand warily. Then he approached her, closed it gently and took her wordlessly in his arms. Somehow she knew, he understood everything, this all was about. Maybe more, than he should.
The next day he told her, they were going to visit the wood.
"I remember you."
Tildas breath caught in her throat. There he stood, looking exactly the same as he did twelve years ago. Ethereal and in a strange way innocent. There was nothing right and nothing wrong around him.
"Are you real?"
He just smiled. "As real, as you want me to be."
That was the kind of answer, her six-year old pendant wouldn't have questioned at all. Her actual self was confused. More than anything she wanted him to be real. He held his hand out to her and she stared at it for what felt an eternity.
"Come, I want to show you something."
She took a deep breath, gathered all her courage and placed her own hand carefully in his and let him lead her away from their horses and her father, who looked everywhere else, but at her and the Elvenking. They walked silently, side by side through the wood and when she looked at her feet, she noticed the trees making way for her, like they had done when she had been a child. She had not found it strange then. She marvelled in it now. She glanced at the elf beside her. He was grace itself and absolutely flawless.
"So beautiful..", she found herself whispering before she could help herself and blushed.
He turned his head and looked down at her but said nothing. Tilda felt like an absolute idiot and looked away, studying the trees around. She remembered being here before. When she closed her eyes and listened to the wood, it felt like a weight on her chest, pressing her down. She glanced back to the elf and saw the sad expression at his face.
"The wood is still ill", she told him.
"Yes." He looked up at the treetops. "It will die."
She stopped dead in her tracks, and he looked back at her.
"What?" Her voice was a terrified whisper.
"Do not be afraid, child. It will take time."
"But you are immortal."
"The wood is not."
"What will be left of you?"
"Maybe a selfish elf. Maybe nothing. I do not know."
She wanted to say or do something, wanted to take some of the pain away, her own as well, as his. But she didn't know what or how. She wasn't six anymore and the world wasn't as simple as it had been. She looked sadly back at her feet and tried to figure out, if the world had changed, or herself, but she couldn't. She squeezed his hand as if to hold him in this, in her world. It was everything she could do. It wouldn't be enough. After another while they had walked next to each other without a word, Thranduil stopped them again.
"Do you remember this place?"
Tilda looked around, totally stunned. It was the clearing, where she had found the little flower. But it wasn't a dark place anymore. Breathlessly she stepped into the middle of it. The sun shined down at it and it was literally covered with little white flowers, they were everywhere. Butterflies and bees were flying around, it smelt like summer and it felt so differently. It felt alive. There was hope. And so much more.
"Yes I do. It is beautiful.. but how.. did you..?"
"Not me. You did this."
"Me..? But how..?"
"I told you."
She stared at him, disbelievingly. He had told her, she could make some things alive. So many years ago. He placed his hand at his heart and held it up to her, the elven way of greeting. And she remembered him, clutching her paper-bird to his chest. She couldn't look away. He, in this clearing she obviously made somehow, as if he belonged there, glowing and bright and so beautiful, it hurt. She would have given it all, her life, her soul, her everything, for him to be happy. For him to live through all eternity without any sorrow and pain. She would have spent the same eternity in the fires of Mordor for it. But she couldn't, she was mortal, she was nothing. She felt her heart clench.
"I love you", she whispered.
"No, you don't understand."
He smiled at her, sadly this time. "I know."
She studied him, imprinted every detail of him in her mind. His aristocratic nose, his brow, the way he held himself, his lips.. she stepped nearer, closed the space between them. "I know, this is more than wrong", she whispered and raised a hand to caress his cheek. Then she leaned in slowly, got up on her toes and kissed him. Not like all the times she remembered, as a child, as a friend. She kissed him, like a lover. On his mouth, tenderly and with all of her heart. He didn't withdraw, but he didn't respond either. She hadn't expected him to do. She exhaled deeply, leaned her head at his chest and closed her eyes.
"I wish I could be there for you. I wish, I could be everything you want and need. But I am just me, simple an mortal. And I am not six years old anymore. The world has changed. I have changed. And I am so sorry."
"Shh, don't be. Here in this clearing, there is no right or wrong. Everything there is, just is." He placed his hand over her heart and she felt something lifting off it. "And somewhere deep inside here, there is still the little girl, I used to know. Yes, the world changes and you change. That is the way of your kin, do not be afraid." He brushed the hair off her face and kissed her brow before he took her into his arms where she wept for a long time, tears for herself, as well as for him. He would not change in this changing world. He would stay the same and be left behind.
"I don't want to leave you", she finally sniffled.
"I told you once, and I do it again: You do not. I will remember."
She didn't understand then. Now she did. He had gifted her a piece of his eternity. And she wouldn't have wanted to spend it anywhere else, than in his memory. She straigthened herself up and stepped back, smiled at him, sincereley grateful. She would never forget the way he looked at her that moment, she would treasure it for all of her days.
"No, thank you."
And he smiled back, put her face in his hands and kissed her fully on her mouth. And although she knew, it was nothing more, than another farewell-gift, she was lost.