The Heir of the Hill

by Lothithil

Chapter 5: Bilbo and Greenleaf

(part 1)
By the hearth in Bag End on a shiver February winter:

"Well, my lad, sit there and let me tell you first about a beautiful Elf-woman named Losengriol. She was the wife of the King of Northern Mirkwood, and she had a son named Greenleaf. He was a young elf, barely a couple of hundred years old when this story begins, and she loved him well, as did her husband Thranduil.

"One day, Losengriol and her son went deep into the forest, for there were in dark places a kind of leaf and a kind of bark, and also a kind of mushroom that grew where no light ever fell, and these were valued by the Elves for their rare properties. But alas, also to be found in those places are creatures who shun the light of the Sun, and they are dangerous and some are of evil intellect. These did Greeleaf fall prey to; as he sought deep under a thick growth of woven thorns and cobwebs, for the plants his mother desired, a large spider did sting his hand, and he fell in a swoon at the poison bite..."

In Mirkwood Forest, many a long year ago:

"Emme, you know Father hates it when you go into the forest alone." Greeleaf closed the door to the secret exit from his father’s palace, sometimes called Menegroth after that ancient kingdom lost beneath the sea. He made sure that the entrance was invisible to all eyes, just a leafy wall it seemed when closed. He shouldered his empty pack and turned to his mother who was waiting for him. "He worries about you," the young elf said.

"An escort equal to a score of brave men I have in thee, my son," answered Losengriol. She smiled at him and smoothed his fine blonde hair. "The finest archer, the best hunter, and the most loyal subject in all of Thranduil’s leafy kingdom, all in one."

Legolas blushed with pride at his mother’s words, and though he still felt they should have more of an escort, he did as Losengriol’s commanded, her words delivered lovingly but with the stern expectation of his unfailing obeisance. He had saddled two horses in stealth and led them to the private door that the King had built in secret. Losengriol used it frequently to enter the forest without raising the attention of the King. She went there to fetch special plants for medicines or to walk in the free air of the leafy world, where her heart was most truly happy. Little did she care to dwell in the carven holes made by Dwarves; she would playfully tease her spouse and son by saying, "Elves belong in trees!" and Thranduil would say how the well fortified and strong were the walls of Menegroth, and how similar it was to that ancient kingdom where his kin once dwelt, and where he had met his wife beneath the oaks that girded the kingdom of Thingol and Melian.

"Yes, and you met me where, my lord? Beneath the trees!" and she would win the argument every time.

They rode into the trees, holding hands outstretched, and they laughed with delight for the wind in their hair and the dappled light of the sun on their faces. The entire world was a leafy tapestry woven of living threads; bough and vine, and shrub and bole. The ground was soft, and their horses made no sound as they walked. The grass was brilliant green and the leaves shining; the air was damp and fragrant after a summer rainfall.

There were any hundred things to catch the attention of a young elf, but Legolas kept his eyes and ears on the movements and sounds of the forest, watching vigilantly while Losengriol gathered her special plants, murmuring an Elvish blessing for each one.

They worked their way into the dark heart of the woods, for Losengriol was seeking a very special plant, a puffball that grew only where the sun had never touched the earth. They had to venture deep into the woods to find such a place, far from the paths of the Wood Elves. They left their horses to graze beneath a beech tree and walked on, for the growth grew close together, and the ground-cover soon became thick and gnarled and difficult for even those on feet to traverse. Legolas’s sharp eyes spotted large spiders in the trees above, and he notched his bow and made ready to shoot if any began to descend their silvery ropes.

Losengriol saw them, too. She beckoned silently for Legolas to follow slowly, and they crept forward. She had located her mushrooms and they lay beneath a thick-woven nest of thorns and cobwebs, old leaves and dry vines choked out of life.

Legolas could not watch his mother mar her beautiful hands on such work, and he gave her is bow and knelt, reaching beneath the thorn-break himself for the plants. He drew his hand back with a hiss, and a big spider dropped to the ground. It was whitish and nearly invisible, and had hidden in the mould beneath the mushrooms, striking out with its stinging beak. Legolas fell back against Losengriol, for already the wound was darkening, and angry red lines ran up the pale skin of his arm. He swooned as the venom overcame him, and Losengriol saw with dismay the greater spiders dropping now with silent speed to steal the prey of their lesser kin. She abandoned the bow and arrows; gathering her son in her arms, she ran.

For years uncounted she had roamed these woods, and other woods before she had come here. She knew the animal trails and every lighting-blasted limb and twisted root. The spiders pursued her but they could not overtake her; like a doe she ran, and her burden slowed her not, but love and fear lent her speed, and she went swift through the trees to the place where the horses had been left.

She smelled them before she saw them; goblins. A hunting party had followed the prints of the horses, and had tracked them to the glade. The horses had bolted and fled, and the goblins were arguing and cursing the sun; she heard their harsh voices. She bent her path to avoid them, running swift around and daring not to linger and hide, for the spiders still followed, and she could hear their hissing and rustling above.

One of the goblins spied her movement, and shouting he drew his bow of horn and fired an arrow after her. She did not stop or slow, but ran on with greater speed, for not her own life did she hold but her son and the heir of her people’s ruler.

She heard cries and more curses behind her, and she knew that the spiders had taken some prey at last. A part of her laughed, as the plans of evil by evil were undone again, but still she did not slow her flight, for another race was upon her, and she wanted to reach her sanctuary.

In a grove of oaks just beyond the wall of the palace, she lay down her son Legolas on a leafy bower. He opened his eyes, for the venom was in him still, but he was strong and fought the unnatural sleep. He saw her with blood upon her, and he cried out and took her in his arms. She smiled at him and took his face in her hands, her white fair hands, and she spoke to him one last time. "Beneath the trees," she said, and then she died.

Back in the Bag End, Bilbo’s favourite armchair creaks:

Bilbo took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his eyes, sighing and clearing his throat. "That is so sad, Bilbo!" Frodo said softly, and his eyes were full of tears. He leaned his head against Bilbo’s leg and stared into the fire.

"That is one of the reasons I have not told you this tale, my lad," said the old hobbit, tousling Frodo’s dark curls affectionately. "I thought that it would upset you; make you think about your own mother, dear Primula."

"All my memories of her are happy ones, uncle. When I think of her, I remember being warm and safe and loved. They don’t ever make me sad... except, well... I wish that I had more memories of her." The young hobbit sighed. He lifted his head and placed his chin on Bilbo’s knee, looking up at him with eyes of sapphire. "Greenleaf was very sad that his mother died, I am sure. How terrible for him!"

"Yes, he was sad, but death for Elves is not what death is for Hobbits or Men, or even Dwarves. Their spirits go to Elfhome, away beyond the furthest West, and sometimes they can come back again."

"Like Glorfindel of Gondolin? I love that tale, though it is very sad!"

"Yes, just so! My, what a memory you have, Frodo! And so, you see, even though he was very sad, he knew that his mother still lived across the vast sea, and he knew someday he would see her again."

"Oh, good," breathed Frodo, and he sat against Bilbo again, his head on his uncle’s lap. "That make listening easier! But what has this story to do with your adventure with Thorin? Did this happen while you were there?"

"Who is telling this tale, Frodo Baggins?" said Bilbo in mock annoyance, and Frodo giggled. "Take that kettle off the flames before it boils away completely and fetch some bread and jam from the pantry. We shall have some tea, and then I will tell you more."

~~~to be continued~~~