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Author: Erulisse
Title: A Cloak of Hunter Green
Rating: PG, Character Death
Theme: Spring
Elements: Hunter Green
Beta: None – Any and all things good and bad are solely my own responsibility.
Word Count: 3314

Summary: A cloak of hunter green is given to a young Silvan girl. I wanted to write a light-hearted romp through the Greenwood. My muse did not cooperate.

Author’s Notes: Disclaimer: Tolkien built the sand box; I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me. No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.



A Cloak of Hunter Green


Ahead, a soft trilling laugh harmonized with the birdsong around me. Looking through the leafy branches ahead, checking the edges of the shadows, I caught a faint hint of movement, almost a whisper of motion at the far side of my sight. I nodded, then tightening my grasp on my bow I headed off in a direction that would be likely to intersect with her path. An exasperated but silent sigh invaded my quiet thoughts. I was following Lithala, the winsome young elf who had stolen my heart when I had first seen her as an infant. She was my sister-in-heart, my cousin, an apprentice Talker, and the future wife of my best friend.

We were playing a game that I had taught her and that we had played often throughout our years growing up together. The goal of 'catch me' was to move invisibly through the shadows, hide under the greenery, and emulate the flicker of sunlight on leaves to blend seamlessly into the forest's background. With practice, an elf could move through the Greenwood almost invisibly.

When she was young she decided that she wanted to be a healer. This meant she would be out in the forest harvesting medicines, potentially walking into dangerous areas. Our tribe, as one of the few who still lived south of the Old Forest Road, taught all of its members how to track and kill. She had been trained to handle both bow and blade with competence, and we taught evasion skills by playing ‘catch me’, and “hide and escape” while tracking each other through the forest glades. Usually the healers had a guard or two in attendance when they went deep into the forest to harvest their plants, but sometimes the warriors were on patrol and unavailable for guard service. Each member of the tribe needed to know basic personal protection skills.

Today, however, I was acting as her guard while she harvested medicinal plants to bring back to Lothuial's tribe. She was wearing the hunter green cloak I had given her many years before and carried her sharp silvered blade, her bow with a belt quiver, a basket for moist plants and a leather bag for leaves and barks.

For twenty-two years she had been apprenticed to Lothuial, the Talker and head of Echtaer’s tribe. Echtaer was my best friend, a companion from the days of my youth and we often visited each other’s tribes. Today I was visiting Lothuial’s people and had volunteered to accompany Lithala into the forest. In three more years she would have her final Ascension Ceremony which would declare her an adult. Then she would be free to marry Echtaer who had become the love of her life.

“Catch me if you can,” she said, when she had finished putting the harvested plants into her bags. She dashed off, quickly blending into the haze of the forest ahead of us as she moved towards her next harvesting ground. While tracking her steps in this familiar game, my thoughts swept back to the days of our childhood.


-0-0-0-


I was older than she, but was at her command from the time she was a wide-eyed infant clinging to my fingers. We were both members of Galadlhoss' tribe. I grew up scampering and swinging through the branches from flet to flet, tickling fish in the cold and rapidly flowing streams nearby, and helping my various relatives hunt, gather their greens and herbs, and make their meals and their medicines. Lithala was born to my mother's younger sister. I had already passed my Ascension Ceremony and was considered old enough to be trusted to go into the forest with small groups of similarly aged young boys, unaccompanied by adult supervision. My group consisted of eight boys. We hunted small game and helped as a scout, protecting our tribe against dangers such as the great spiders that attacked from the treetops, or the orcs that sometimes invaded the boundaries of the Greenwood.

A child is always a treasured gift for the tribe. Initially I looked at this newly born, small infant with hesitation. She had nut brown hair and leaf green eyes, a perfectly pouted mouth and a grip of great strength around my finger. I decided that she was interesting and resolved to get to know her better. My good intentions were quickly dampened when she let loose with a loud cry and, subsequently wet her wrap and soiled herself while being seated on my lap.

In spite of that uncertain beginning, she invaded my thoughts and I found myself spending extra time near her parent's fireside, entertaining this latest addition to our small tribe. As she grew older and began to speak, she asked questions and thrust herself into the daily lives of all. By the time she had reached age ten, I was her constant and reliable companion, her big brother in all but name.

When she was twenty-five, her Ascension Ceremony was held at mid-summer. The Ceremony was a public declaration of the beginning of her between years. After Ascension she would no longer be considered a child, but she would not have the rights of a full adult either. When she had lived for fifty years we would celebrate her Final Ascension. Then she would be welcomed to the tribe as an adult member and would be free to ply a trade, craft or calling, and to wed if she so desired.

For the Mid-summer gathering our meeting glade had been decorated with suspended lanterns, their warm, flickering lights shining through their bent-branch framework and translucent leaf covers. The multicolored lanterns were arranged in a pattern of pleasing symmetry, suspended high over the glade. The huge trees that formed the natural walls of the glade were wrapped in blooming floral vines. These twined up the tree trunks and through their leafy canopies, adding both their blooms and soft scent to the ceremonies that would be conducted below.

The tribe had been busy gathering and preparing the feast for days. There were several types of meat and fish as well as greens, mushrooms, and grains that were ground and stone-baked in flat breads with nuts and berries. All of us were extra vigilant when we patrolled the borders at this time of the year. It would not do to have our ceremonies and prayers interrupted by bloodshed

The Mid-summer feast also had a variety of drinks to accompany the food. Several varieties of honey wine had been brewed and we had traded some excess medicinal herbs for a small keg of Dorwinion wine, that famous deep red wine that was so treasured by the King's family far north of us. Of course there was also tea and juice available for anyone wanting some.

It was our custom at mid-summer to join with several of our neighboring tribes, in a joint celebration. The hosting duties rotated from tribe to tribe so that no single group would have to put forth the effort too often. For Lithala's Ascension year my tribe was hosting. We had been joined by five other groups, several of which had arrived a few days early. All of the tribes contributed by helping with the food preparation and decorations, as well as joining in patrols and guard duty.

Each tribe had a Talker, the leader of the tribe as well as a spiritual guide who spoke with the Greenwood on our behalf. Our spiritual leader, Galadhloss, had been huddled with Lothuial and the other Talkers for the past few days. The six Talkers were seated in a circle in a more secluded glade nearby, softly drumming and walking the Tree-spirit roads at night. It was the Talker’s task to stretch their awareness into our surroundings and to help the forest keep evil away from its boundaries. When our tribes were healthy and spaced apart the correct distance, the Talkers were able to erect spiritual walls to keep the spiders and orcs contained in the south and west. Our Talkers helped the King keep those of us who still preferred to live in the southern areas of the Greenwood safe. That, combined with our physical patrols, helped keep the blackness of the fell fortress in the west at bay.

There were several other boys who were close to me in age and were members of the other tribes. Although I knew each of them, for we worked together often on joint patrols and for training, my brother-in-heart was Echtaer, a young man who had taken his Final Ascension ceremony at the same time as I had. Since his tribe was our closest neighbor, we often found ourselves working jointly on hunting expeditions and border patrols. Echtaer had seen Lithala several times over the years because he was often in our camp.

The day of Lithala's Ascension Ceremony and the Mid-summer feast quickly approached. The day before the Ceremony, Galadhloss and the other Talkers allowed her to enter their glade to prepare her. Once in the smaller glade she fasted as they instructed, from sunrise until the time that her Ceremony would be held. Each Talker spoke to her about the responsibilities that she would be required to embrace, now that she was no longer a child. They also sang to her and threw the bones for her. Only the Talkers and the candidates for Ascension were allowed into the glade. As her 'brother', I stood guard just outside the glade. I happened to catch a glimpse of Galadhloss's face when he threw the bones. A quick expression of horror and sorrow marred his features, but immediately his face returned to its normal placid demeanor. Thinking back on it later, I almost convinced myself that I had imagined what I saw. He spoke in low tones to Lithala, but I caught the words 'Talker' and 'healer'.

That night Lithala kept vigil alone in an isolated flet with her parents acting as guard near the tree. One Talker sat at the base between the roots drumming softly throughout the night. This was Lithala's time to speak to the Greenwood and listen to its voice. On this night the forest would tell her what her life's task would be. The next morning, when she climbed down from the flet, she carried a branch from the willow in her right hand and a sprig of mint in her left. The forest had spoken, she would become a healer.

The actual Ascension Ceremony and our Mid-Summer celebration were almost anti-climactic after that. But Lithala was now no longer a child, and to celebrate that fact she was given various gifts. Her parents presented her with a small, extremely sharp silvered knife for harvesting medicinal plants, my parents gave her a tooled boot sheath featuring a beech leaf design for the knife, and I gave her a finely woven cloak colored in hunter green. I had provided food and assistance to the village weaver for more than a year to pay for it. I will never forget the joy in her eyes when I gave it to her.

The best healer in our group was in Echtaer's tribe, Lithala was accepted by Lothuial as an apprentice Talker for twenty years, beginning shortly after mid-summer day and would be moving back with them after the Mid-summer feast. It meant that I would not see her as often, but our two tribes usually came together every few months so I would still see her now and again. Before she left, Echtar, Lithala and I played ‘hide and catch’ one last time together. She was getting very good at hiding, but we were getting correspondingly very good at tracking. It took us most of the day to find her, laughing at us from a treetop guard's flet.

The next day she left and my life settled into a routine. I patrolled and trained with the guards, I helped my parents and the other elders as much as possible, and I sat with Galadhloss when possible, attempting to find out more about the Talkers. I tried questioning him about why he had done a second casting of the bones on Lithala's Ascension day but he merely muttered, continued his meditations and cast the bones periodically, searching for answers that weren't there to be found. He taught me about basic healing arts and also passed along tricks that improved my tracking abilities.

I suppose it was inevitable, but Echtaer and Lithala fell in love. She was training with his aunt, Lothuial, and living in their family group, the two of them were together often. Their love was encouraged by his family since they thought highly of Lithala and her future within the tribe and they could see that the two young elves were destined to be together.

When she went into the Greenwood to gather medicines, he was often assigned as her guard. They took to walking together, even though they always had chaperones since Lithala had not had her Final Ascension ceremony yet. Eventually everyone accepted that they were a couple and that they would join their fëa after she had been declared an adult formally. When I looked at the two of them, it was clear to me that they were meant for each other. The strengths of each shored up the weaknesses of the other. Their souls had spoken to each other and no others would be accepted. It was a good match, and I felt comforted that she would be with my best friend.


-0-0-0


My thoughts returned to the present. There, ahead was a broken twig. She had passed this way. I hurried on to find her. I had received reports of increased orc activity in the area and wanted to keep her within my sight while she was harvesting.

We had left the settlement early in the morning, intending to harvest some of the early season’s cress, more willow bark, and some chicory. She also said she wanted to check on some areas where plants that she needed should be sprouting soon. The early spring mists were being burned off by the sun which was just appearing over the horizon. She swung her cloak around her shoulders, took up her basket and bag, and made sure that her knife was in her right boot. We left, heading southwest towards the Anduin river flats.

She had successfully harvested the cress when she was suddenly hit by mischief. She laughed and said “Catch me if you can,” and ran into the mists. Immediately I set out to track her. As many times as she was told that this part of the forest held deep dangers, nothing could dampen the joy of her heart and her basic trust that all things would be well. I had found out otherwise in my years with the patrol, and hastened to try and intersect her path and tell her to stay close by me.

Suddenly a scream of fear pierced the soft sounds of the forest. Its sound was ahead and to the left of my location. I increased my speed, but also my watchfulness. Climbing up, I took to the trees. Orcs stayed on the ground but I would be able to travel swiftly through the branches above. I had to be careful; if I was captured, no help would come in time to save either of us from torment and death.

Following broken branches, faint sounds, and finally yet another scream which pierced me to the heart, a scream of pain that was abruptly cut off, I finally came upon a scene unimagined, even in my worst nightmares.

There were more than twenty of the foul creatures. Several of them were surrounding Lithala who looked as if had been brutally beaten but was still attempting to defend herself against those who were holding her down and beginning to force her legs apart. Twenty orcs were more than I could take on alone, no matter how much I wanted to. I forced myself to turn away from the sight and run swiftly towards our camp to get aid. Another scream pierced my soul as I ran away. Turning away from her was the hardest thing I have ever done.

After a few minutes, possibly the longest of my life, I came across Echtaer’s patrol. I choked out my story. The patrol leader immediately sent one elf back to the main camp to gather more warriors while Echtaer, and five others joined me, returning at top speed to where I had left Lithala.

When we arrived it became a bloodbath. We immediately began using our bows, shooting from the branches above. More than half of the orcs, and all of those around Lithala, were quickly killed or seriously injured in that first barrage. But as soon as it seemed needful, we quickly traded our bows for our swords. My hatred for those who had violated my beloved sister-in-heart gave strength to my blade. I personally killed three of the creatures. The orcs were defeated quickly.

I ran towards Lithala. Echtaer was attempting to remove a spear which had been forded through her upper chest, breaking her collarbone and pinning her to the ground. She had been pummeled, raped and was bleeding heavily; she was barely holding on to life. Her eyes were closed and her breaths were shallow and bubbling as though she was breathing water, not air. Small air-filled bubbles of blood were on her lips. I helped Echtaer remove the shaft from her shoulder then he fell to his knees, pulling her body into his arms. He rocked her, murmuring soft words to her which I couldn't understand, while tears fell down his face.

Her eyes were swollen from blows she had received, but one opened slightly and a small smile came to her lips when she recognized Echtaer. “My love,” she whispered, and then her breath ceased forever.

We were frozen, Echtaer and I. He continued to hold her body in his arms and I fell to my knees across from him. We were encased in our grief with no awareness of the outside world. Later I learned that other warriors had arrived by then. They helped collect the bodies and, with the permission of the trees, the dead orcs were burned. While several warriors remained behind to guard the fire and make sure no embers were carried to live wood, the rest of us returned to the tribe. Echtaer was carrying Lithala tenderly. I held her cloak draped over my arm and her knife in my hand; they had been found by our men, discarded near her body.

When we arrived home, Echtaer was finally convinced to release her body to the women, who washed and prepared her for burial. We joined the men who were digging her grave at the base of a beech tree that she had long loved as her own. I think that her parents and mine were sent for and arrived shortly afterwards, but I truly don't recall. My thoughts were centered on what I could have done differently. I blamed myself for her death.

Echtaer placed the ring he had been waiting to offer her after her Final Ascension Ceremony on her finger and she was wrapped up in the hunter green cloak I had given her so long ago. Then, joined by the other members of the tribe, we lowered her into the opened ground.

I have heard that King Oropher is calling for warriors to join him in a war against Mordor. Apparently we of the Greenwood will be joining with elves from other lands as well as other races in an attempt to rid our world of Sauron. My life lies wrapped in a green cloak underneath a beech tree. I will join this army and Echtaer along with me for we have nothing left to lose.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
shirebound
Mar. 17th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
Oh my, what a chilling story. You write beautiful details, and my heart aches for innocence lost, and gentle love turned to revenge.
engarian
Mar. 17th, 2012 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Shire. I really wanted a light-hearted romp in the woods. But my muse refused to cooperate and it became a story of culture, enemies and death. I am glad that you liked the fic, though. I thought it turned out rather well so I was pleased.

- Erulisse (one L)
lindahoyland
Mar. 17th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
What a heart rending story!
engarian
Mar. 17th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Linda. I wanted to write something optimistic and spring happy and it just didn't happen. Sometimes I have to pay attention to my muse.

- Erulisse (one L)
lindahoyland
Mar. 17th, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
I never know where my Muses will lead me and they often surprise me!
foxrafer
Mar. 17th, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
A very sad story, and I can picture the two of them going off to fight looking for revenge and to inflict as much pain and punishment as possible.
engarian
Mar. 17th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
Although they might go off with Oropher for revenge, I was also thinking of the hopelessness that the two were feeling and equating that with the fact that about 2/3 of Oropher's troops died at the Black Gate. Horrible statistics.

Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them a lot.

- Erulisse (one L)
ellynn_ithilwen
Mar. 19th, 2012 01:19 pm (UTC)
This is so sad! All the time, from the beginning, I had the feeling that something bad would happen... You described things in a neutral tone, so to say, but there was this hint of some evil waiting for its moment. And by that, I don't just mean the event with throwing the bones, but all together, you managed to achieve scary atmosphere (even though the narrator speaks of happy memories). And the end is so heart-breaking! :(

P.s. A small mistake in third paragraph. ;) "She had been could handle both bow and blade with competence" You'll probably want to fix this. ;)
engarian
Mar. 19th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you. That's the problem with self-editing. I've gone over the story many times and still missed this :-) *hugs*

Yes, I really wanted something uplifting and happy for the season but my muse refused to cooperate, instead I wrote one of the most sorrow-filled stories of the past year with a final paragraph that still breaks my heart every time I read it. Thanks for your review and your eagle eyes, my friend :-)

- Erulisse (one L)
blslarner
Mar. 24th, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
How terrible for the two of them, one to lose the sister of her heart and the other the love of his life. No wonder both wanted to fight Sauron.

Well, well done.
engarian
Mar. 24th, 2012 08:47 am (UTC)
Thanks so much. I really wanted a light-hearted love story, but my muse wouldn't allow it and turned it dark. I think it highly unlikely that either returned from the Black Gate since Oropher lost more than 2/3 of his forces there. Thank you again for your words, they were a lovely thing to awaken to this morning.

- Erulisse (one L)
virtuella
Apr. 2nd, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
Oh! You made me so comfortable in this tory, I was fascinated by the concept of the Talkers and all the customs of the tribe you describe and then, gah, what a terrible ending! That was skillfully done.
engarian
Apr. 2nd, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I really wanted a nice, easy-going love story and it turned into anything but. Thank you so much, I appreciate your letting me know that it affected you.

- Erulisse (one L)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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