It was a night no one would forget. The gardens of Ithilien were lit with bright lanterns, silver and gold, wrought by the dwarves for just this occasion. Delicate paper streamers in pastel shades hung from the boughs of the lowest branches of every tree. The fragrant muskiness of incense wafted through the newly regenerated woods of North Ithilien. Flowered garland topped every archway and threshold. This was a time of peace, a time of rebirth, and a time of love. Tonight the Ithilien elves celebrated the marriage of their fair yet courageous Lady Rhavaniel to their utmost respected Lord Legolas. Long had they wished to see this joining and the time had finally arrived. Already joined by their souls, tonight they joined in throne as well as title. Those who had once witnessed the coming together of King Thranduil and Queen Alastegiel of Mirkwood were gifted once again with the same joyous celebration for the King’s son and his long time love.
The ceremony was one of beauty and grace. Legolas was dressed in his finest robes of silver and white, embroidered with the symbols of both Mirkwood and Ithilien in pale green. Rhavaniel wore a beautiful floor length gown in the same shade of green as the design in Legolas’ robes. It was cinched at the waist and laced up the back. It hung slightly off her shoulders with a low neckline that accentuated her bosom. The sleeves were flared and almost hung to the floor. In her hair, she wore a crown made of tiny white flowers and green leaves. Her long golden hair was braided at the sides and hung down over her shoulders. Pinned to her dress was a silver brooch engraved with a beech tree. This was a gift from Legolas, given to her the night they bonded. It belonged to his mother long ago, given to her by Thranduil on the night he asked her to be his queen. And now, Rhavaniel secretly wished to one day give it to her own child, but that day was long off.
There was an electric charge in the forest air, given off by the undying love generated between Legolas and Rhavaniel. Everyone in attendance felt it as it called to all souls this heavenly night. Whether it was long time love or new, matured love or fresh, every soul was touched by the static in the air. Not only were elves affected, though they felt it more prominently. Humans and dwarves, yes even dwarves experienced the magic of this royal bonding. Love was in the air twisting and swirling with the scents of the forest. It was as if the people breathed in the love and felt it go straight to their hearts, fortifying existing adoration or helping the lonely find a compatible suitor. No one was more impinged by this awareness than Nereth.
She was a Mirkwood elf, dark brown hair, green eyes, and small in frame, shy and quiet, overlooked by most others. She had lived a lonely life in her woodland home, but it wasn’t always that way. You see, Nereth was once madly in love with a most handsome ellon named Hothien. He was very tall, but very slender, hair of a pale gold color. He too was quite reserved as was Nereth. They met on a night such as this, at a bonding ceremony of mutual friends. The air was charged very much the same as it was now, but not as strong. As soon as she laid eyes on him, she desired him. He practically ran to her from across the room. It was truly love at first sight. By the end of the evening, they were betrothed and spent their first night making love beneath the oak trees. Within a week, they bonded their souls without hesitation. It was a whirlwind affair that some looked down upon. They were the ones that could not understand how the heart and the soul could work so quickly. They were the ones that called their bonding a mistake. But Nereth ignored these elves, thinking they were jealous. She loved Hothien and knew he loved her just as much. They planned on a long life full of happiness.
However, their plans were cut short, too short in fact. After only a year of wedded bliss, tragedy struck. Hothien was out picking fresh flowers to give to his wife. It was a year since they married and they planned to mark that day by expanding their family and conceiving their first child. Hothien and Nereth were ready to have children. They were both very excited about the prospect of having their first elfling. She had lit small fragrant candles around their bedroom, sprinkled rose petals over their bed, wore a new negligée just for this very occasion, and waited for her lover to come home. Instead of Hothien knocking on the door, it was one of the Mirkwood soldiers with word of an attack. Hothien was killed, ambushed by spiders. The soldier held a bouquet of fresh picked wild flowers. Hothien’s deceased body lay on the forest floor, the flowers still clutched in his hand.
After his death, Nereth did not leave her home. She could see no reason to join other elves. Friends of hers brought her food and necessities. She became a shell of her former self and drew inside her own lonely existence. Years passed and no one ever saw the elleth. When she did go out, she wore a black veil and never let anyone see her sorrow. Many wondered why she did not sail into the West, or fade from her loneliness. Quite frankly, Nereth wondered the same thing. Most would have died from the loss of someone so dear to them. However, she stayed in Mirkwood and dealt with her sadness from day to day.
A thousand years or so passed, when an announcement went out that a colony of elves was moving to Ithilien in Gondor to replenish its gardens and forests in the northern region. Nereth saw this as her chance to start a new era in her long life. There was nothing for her in Mirkwood, but there had been nowhere to go. This seemed like the right opportunity, and she left her lonely life behind to start anew under the reign of Prince Legolas, the King’s son.
Nereth buried herself in the remaking of the gardens, something she found much pleasure in. She knew every inch of them and the woods that surrounded them. She watched every sapling grow and flourish with help from the soil of Lady Galadriel’s own gardens, a gift to Legolas to during the Ring War. For a while, Nereth forgot about her woes and just enjoyed watching life replenish around her. It was in her nature to nourish.
* * *
Therefore, that brings us to the marriage ceremony, in which Nereth was a guest. It was a most exciting time for everyone, especially Nereth. It reminded her of the celebration where she first met Hothien. The grand celebration was almost too much of a reminder as her memories brought up many things in her mind. The sights and smells flooded her senses. The magic in the air made her heart sing out. If only she could go back in time and relive that moment all over again.
One thing that intrigued Nereth was all the different races of people from all over Middle-earth. They were not only here for the celebration, but some came to live here permanently. Ithilien was open to all people. No one would be denied residence. Dwarves, Gondorians, Rohirrim, and people from other nationalities all gathered for this most celebrated occasion.
Now began the after-festivities. Musicians played their instruments bringing many out to the dance floor. Wine and ale flowed freely, and food was delicious and abundant. All in attendance were having a splendid time, but Nereth stayed off to the side, sipping a glass of fine Dorwinion wine. Although she was happy for the royal couple and their new marriage, she couldn’t help but feel a sadness in her heart. She stood in the corner where the shadows helped cover her and just watched. There was one couple that sparked her interest, two male elves, both beautiful beyond words. They were tall and muscular. One had chestnut brown hair and the other’s was sun streaked blond. They held each other very casually, but the way they looked into one another’s eyes spoke volumes. It was obvious they were very much in love. Nereth smiled and thought about Hothien. Theirs was a love like no other, one she would never find again.
A very handsome ellon walked over to where she stood. He smiled and bowed in proper greeting. “Would my lady care to dance?”
Nereth turned a slight shade of pink and looked down into her wine glass. “I’m flattered, but I think I am fine right where I am at for now, thank you,” she smiled sheepishly.
The elf stood there a moment, noticing something sad about her. It must have been a very long time since someone asked her to dance. “Please, my lady, it would do my heart good to share just one dance with you.” He offered her his hand.
Nereth looked at his turned up palm. “Oh, alright, one dance will not hurt,” she said to herself. She accepted his hand and the ellon led her to the dance floor.
He was very good and very polite. He twirled her and held her at a respectable distance. Nereth let her guard down and felt very comfortable with him. It was just a nice dance was all. When it was over, he bowed and she curtsied. Then they turned from each other and left the floor. This lightened her spirit and she allowed her soul a little freedom from its usual desolate prison. It was at that very moment that she saw something she would never forget, a very handsome young man with the most piercing hazel eyes. His body was in fine shape, muscled and tanned. He looked to be in the prime of his youth, vigorous and robust. He was watching her as she left the dance floor. They made eye contact and her soul burst from its confines. Her breath caught and she tried to shake off the moment, but it was too late. They had seen each other and desire was born in an instant. Nereth forced her eyes to blink and finally broke the connection. Then she turned away from him and walked quickly from the ballroom, looking for a place to hide and recollect herself.
Outside the air was cool and refreshing. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There, that was better. Nereth smiled and laughed at herself. “It is just the magic of the night,” she told herself. Still, she could not deny the fact that she had felt something she hadn’t experienced since she first met Hothien. The shock of finding that emotion again was what scared her. No one had ever made her feel like this but her first and only love, no one until now. But it couldn’t be. This was a man, a human. She shook her head again and wandered off into the gardens to clear her thoughts and take in the night air.
* * *
Someone came up behind him, slapping him roughly on the back of his shoulder. “Have you ever imagined such beauties in all your life?” said a familiar voice.
Orno turned his head to find his longtime friend and recently crowned king standing behind him. He smiled and nodded in agreement. “The elves have always been the most beautiful of all the races, but you should not be having such thoughts so close to your own wedding, Eomer, King,” Orno laughed, putting emphasis on his title.
“And I am very grateful to have found my queen, but a man can still look,” Eomer jested. He patted Orno again and went off to get a fresh mug of ale.
Orno was a man of Rohan. His skin was browned from riding under the sun in pursuit of enemies. His red hair was sun streaked with lighter shades of blond. It was long, hanging below his shoulders. He was very tall and muscular, shoulders squared and straight. His face was adorned with a neatly kept mustache and beard that matched the darker shades of his hair. Orno was the Captain and leader of King Éomer’s armies, the highest rank among the Rohirrim. The King had known him since they were children. They grew up together, trained together, lost their virginity to the same girl. It seemed only right that Éomer would promote Orno after being crowned King of Rohan.
Life was good, but it was lonely. Orno worked hard to become Captain of the Rohirrim. This meant that he sacrificed family life, something that many young men his age had already considered. Of course, he was very handsome and much sought after. Many women managed to win a night with him, whenever he felt the need for release, but none ever captured his heart. Orno never allowed such feelings. He had to see to the protection of his home and this did not include settling down and starting a family. He willingly made this sacrifice as he recited the oath that every Rohirrim soldier took. He dedicated his life to his country and was well rewarded. Yes, life was good for Orno, but he was young yet.’
He glanced around the ballroom in search of anyone or anything that caught his eye. Ithilien was odd to him. Never had he seen so many different races of people in one gathering, Gondorians, elves and dwarves just to name a few. He turned his attention to the dance floor and was taken aback to see two male elves dancing together. Such things were taboo in Rohan. There men were men and loved women, respected them with every fiber of their being. Then again, these were elves not men. They loved with their souls, not just their eyes or their hearts. Once the soul called out to its mate, love was inevitable, even for males it seemed.
Orno was about to turn to leave the area in search of food, when something caught his eye. She was very lovely in her sapphire blue gown. Her brown hair was braided at the sides, showing her pointed ears. Her frame was slim and delicate, a most beautiful elf, he thought. Of course, they were all beautiful, even the elf men, but this particular female made him stop and gaze upon her beauty. Then, she said goodbye to her dance partner and turned. Immediately, their eyes locked as if she had heard him calling to her to turn towards him. Even from across the room, he could see the depths of time in her eyes. She was of an ancient race and had seen much more of the world than he could ever imagine in his life time. Like magic, they were frozen in their place, left to stare and wonder. Orno’s heart began to race. Who was this elf and why did she affect him so?
The moment seemed to end all too soon as she quickly turned and hurried off. Orno could not let this vision go. He felt something deep within his chest and now his spirit urged him to follow her. Without thinking, he did just that.
* * *
As Nereth wandered through the familiar gardens, she heard the sound of clumsy feet following her. It was not an elf for they walked in silence. She was fooling no one, though. She knew it was the man that followed her. Why? What would a man want with her, besides the fact that they were drawn to her race and were curious. She knew from the white horse on his uniform that he was from Rohan. Truthfully, she had never met a Rohirrim before. They rarely came to Ithilien and preferred to stay in Minas Tirith with their own kind. The marriage of Legolas and Rhavaniel brought them here, and the heavy feel of the magic in the air summoned this man to her now. Well then, she thought, let’s give him a show. Nereth dashed behind a tree and seemed to disappear into thin air, leaving the man confused.
Orno came out of the shadows and stepped into the moonlight. The elleth was gone in an instant. Maybe it was just as well. Why did he follow her in the first place? This was not like him. He never followed a woman like this. He never had to for they were in abundance. He turned to leave and go back to the hall.
“I did not think it was like your race to give up so easily,” said a voice.
Orno stopped and looked back but the garden was empty. The voice seemed to come from all around him, not in just one direction. “I did not think there was anything to give up on,” he answered.
“It was you that followed me. Why?” she said.
“Come out so that I may know whom I speak to,” Orno demanded politely.
“Answer my question first and then we will see.”
Orno looked around him in every tree and every shadow, but saw nothing. He thought to come up with some clever answer as the one he might use to woo a woman, but something held him back. This was no woman and she-elves were considered alarmable when it came to human men. Better to be honest, he thought to himself. “I followed you because, well . . . I have no answer to that question. Would it be that my feet could speak, you might have a proper reply.” Orno heard the faintest sound of a laugh and knew he had her attention.
“So you are saying you followed against your will. Another false trait to your people.”
“You seem to be knowledgeable about the Rohirrim, my lady. Come out and tell me what else you know about my kind.” Orno knew he was daring her and that she may not respond well. It was a chance he was willing to take, and one that worked to his advantage.
At first, he only saw the silhouette of the elleth as she stood in the shadows. Slowly, she stepped out into the same moonlight that illuminated him. There they stood on opposite sides of the garden, washed in the pale light of evening. Their eyes met for the second time and locked. Orno’s heart raced once more as green brilliance seemed to stab him to his very core.
Nereth was in awe over this man. It was very confusing as to why she felt drawn to him, a man, a human. Her curiosity got the best of her though. She could no longer stay hidden nor did she want to. She wanted to see him up close. She wanted to see if the rumors were true.
Orno watched the elleth slowly approach him. She walked with such fluidity and grace, as he had never witnessed before. It seemed to him that she floated across the green grass of the garden floor. She was mesmerizing and he could not look away. And then she was standing before him, green eyes still locked with hazel ones.
“Well,” she started. “What is said about your stature is true. Men of Rohan are tall and proud, giants among men, bold and intimidating to behold. However, it is said that you are the barbarians of your race, uncaring and fear mongering. You are not happy unless you are at war, but in war, you are an unstoppable force. You kill any who stand in your way, not giving a second thought and craving the smell and sight of blood.” Nereth paused to let him respond.
Orno laughed under his breath, tilted his held up and rolled his eyes. “Yes, that is what has been said. It never ceases to amaze me how we are portrayed, even in these days of peace. Part of what you say is true. We are proud. We are bold, and in war, we fight for the honor of our own. But tell me this, my lady. Are you frightened by me?”
Nereth thought he was a most unusual being. She creased her brows. “Of course I am not afraid of you.”
“That is because you are an elf, but not just any elf. I can see by your braids that you are woodland kind, the most strange and dangerous of all elves. Even other elves are fearful of you. You can turn in an instant from friend to killer, should one word not appeal to your liking. Walk carefully beneath the trees of Rhovanion, my people say, should you walk there at all. Those that wander there are never heard from again. Trespassers are captured and sacrificed, their blood used in rituals to make magic protection potions for your King and his underground palace. It is also said that you made terms with Dol Guldur and shared in the blood of the captured in order to secure your safety during the years of war.” Now Orno paused to see her reaction.
Nereth’s eyes turned to slits. She considered the man a moment. “Blood rituals, is that what you think?”
Orno stood his ground, towering above the elf. “Fear mongers?” he retaliated.
It was obvious that they had both been misled by rumor and exaggeration. They stood eyeing each other a moment more. Then Nereth took a step to the side. She started circling him, looking him over from head to toe. This man was all muscles and brawn. Unlike elves, whose strength was hidden, men’s strength was easily viewed. She sized him up and concluded that this particular man was very strong indeed. She found out just how much as she came to face him again. He reached out and took her by the arm, squeezing her tight, but not overly so. His hand was rough and warm. His fingers were thick and wrapped easily around her arm, and a tingling heat stirred where their flesh touched. Nereth’s breathing increased as her heart sped up slightly.
He did not mean to reach for her, but he was afraid she would dart off again. He wasn’t even aware of his movements until he felt the soft coolness of her flesh against his palm. Then there was the faint sound of ringing in his ears. A vibration started in his fingers where he touched her traveling up his arm and spreading throughout his body. His attention came back to Nereth as he realized she had become affected too. The look in her eyes and the change in her breath told him this much.
Nereth’s mind was instantly in a whirlwind of emotions, not only hers but his also. She closed her eyes and saw flashes of memories; the day she met Hothien, making love under the oaks, stolen kisses and laughing. Then she saw this man hovering over a woman giving her such ecstasy. The muscles in his arms flexed with every thrust. The scene changed again and Hothien was stroking her lovingly, making her body come alive. Again, it flashed to the man as he held a thin woman by the hips and pound into her body. Then the visions melded into one another and she was in the woman’s place with the man taking her into him. Her body was buzzing with sensual desire, something she had not felt since she last made love to Hothien. But even her lover had not made her feel the way this man did now in her mind. Before it went too far, Nereth ripped her mind away from the vision, opened her eyes and pulled away from his grip. She was breathing rapidly. Sweat beaded on her brow and her body tingled with static charges.
Orno had experienced the same intimacy as her. Only after looking into her eyes did he realize they both had. “What . . . what was that?” he asked, catching his breath.
Nereth could not answer for she did not know what was happening. She shook her head and looked down at her body. It felt as if they had just made love and her body was still alive with sensations. She touched her hand to her stomach and jolted in response to the sensitivity. “I . . . have to go,” she stuttered and turned from him.
“No, please stay. I am sorry if I did something wrong,” he pleaded.
Nereth stopped as if against her will, but did not turn to him. “You did nothing, but I must go.” She ran off into the trees as far as she needed to escape him.
Souls Come Forth This Night by L8Bleumr