Time Immemorial

by Orangeblossom Took

A shore of the Long Lake

She was the first Daughter of Men I ever saw. There, on the edge of the Long Lake, she splashed in the clear water careless as an elfling and allowed the hem of her green skirt to soak up the waters of the lake. Her hair was the color of autumn leaves in a light-dappled forest and as sleek as the coats of the otters whose playfulness she shared. This was no grave elf maid.

I watched quietly from the woods and did not betray my presence. My mother died before memory becomes clear and I spent most of my time patrolling the borders of my father’s land so I had seldom been in female company. I wondered how her father, brothers, or husband had let her wander alone on this deserted shore between lake and woods. For that matter, I still do not know why I strayed alone so far from my usual trails and my father’s hall.

She walked away from the lake to pick the wildflowers on the edge of the woods. I wanted to stay but thought what my father would say about my mooning over such as her. I told myself that she held my interest no more than an exotic butterfly or flower would have and slunk silently back in the forest.

I found myself drawn back to that spot whenever I had occasion to travel that far, which was often for one of my kind but, having more dealings with men, I understand that the tides and eddies of time flow very differently for them. The next time I saw her, she was with a young man. They held hands and watched the sunset stain the lake in shades of red and orange. Did she see me watching from the trees, if only for a fleeting moment?

The next time I came, she was there with a child. A girl who also had hair and eyes the hue of dying leaves. When she and the babe slumbered on the sunny shore, I left the cover of the trees. I had never seen one of the race of Men that young. The little one began to stir so I sang a lullaby that is one of my few memories of my mother. It was soft and like the sighing of the trees, soft enough to quiet the child and yet not disturb the rest of the mother. When she quieted, I slipped back into the woods and waited there until the man joined them. I told myself it was because I was concerned with their safety.

The number of orcs and dark things threatening Mirkwood increased and I was needed so it was even longer before I again returned to the spot by the lake’s clear, green waters. She and the man was there wither her and I was shocked by what I saw. Her hair was no longer the color of autumn but the color of winter snow. Her figure and face were as unrecognizable from their former appearance as a winter-bare tree is from its summer glory.

How could it be? Little time had gone by since I was last here.

“Maybe for you, fool,” I thought, “but time passes differently for Men.”

I resolved to come back soon but I had duties and the trees went from green to red or gold to bare and back again several times before I returned. This time she was alone and had been further melted away by time. Then something happened that startled me.

She spoke and even her voice was ravaged by age. She said, “I know you are watching. You may come out of the trees.”

With some chagrin, I walked out onto the sand and asked, “How did you know I was there? I have taken pains to go unnoticed.”

She smiled and answered, “I felt that a benevolent presence was watching me here. Perhaps that is why I have loved this spot. I always felt that but it was stronger now. You sense things like that when you are older in recompense, perhaps, for a loss in the sharpness of the physical senses. I am Lisle.”

I returned her smile and said, “I am Legolas of the Woodland Realm. Why are you here alone, Lisle?”

She looked sad and said, “There is no one else to be here with me. My husband died last winter and my daughter is married and has a family of her own to tend to. I wanted to be here today. I am tired, Legolas, my time is done. It was a great effort to come here but I knew it would be my last chance to see this place. I felt a great pain in my chest this morning. That was how my mother died and I wanted to die with my feet in the clear water.”

I could see that there was a blue tinge to her lips and fingernails. “I will stay here as long as need be,” I said in a voice barely above a whisper.

I stayed there until the end and held her hand. I sang the same lullaby of the sighing trees until her eyes closed forever and I mourned her passing with silent tears. I stayed by her until I heard the approach of others calling her name and the watched from the trees until they found her and bore her home.