Kili left the Greenwood with the last of the leaves. Red, yellow, and brown, they dropped before Thranduil, as if to make a carpet for the departing king. Above, bare branches reached for the grey sky, blackened by contrast, if not by their natural bark. The land opened up before them with yellow grasses and rocky soil. Compared to the narrow paths and massive trees, it made for easy going. Half a day brought the army to the edge of a river.
Across the tumultuous water, Kili saw another forest, still adorned with a single, autumnal color, waving like a river of gold in the brisk wind. Arrayed before it was an army. Equal in number to the elves of the Greenwood, the soldiers of the Golden Wood were so alike in face and feature that their bright golden armor shone in a single great mirror, as though the sun walked upon the earth. Utterly dazzled, the young Baggins stared.
Beside him, Thorin snorted. “Showy.”
Turning to scold his uncle, Kili saw King Thranduil’s mouth quirk sideways, as though pleased.
“Some would call the Land of Lorien the greatest stronghold in all of Middle Earth, it is a bastion of elvish power and beauty the likes of which may soon be lost to the world,” the elven king said mildly.
“Always they underestimate the North,” grumbled Thorin.
Thranduil smiled a little more, but that might have been diplomacy as he and Thorin went to the river side to greet the other elves. On the other side of the rushing white water, one of the elves raised a bow and shot an arrow straight toward Thranduil. As it whipped across the river, Kili saw a rope trailing behind it. Sure enough, Tauriel sprang forward to secure the rope about a convenient rock. On the other side of the river, the elf did the same with his end of the rope. Then, as nimbly as a squirrel dancing along a fence-post, the elf bounced across this precarious, makeshift bridge. With a final, flourishing leap, he came to stand before the three kings of the northern alliance. To them, he bowed low.
“King Thranduil, King Thorin, King Bard: I beg to present the greeting and compliments of Lothlorien, on behalf of the Lord and Lady of the Galadhrim.”
“We are honored to be welcomed so,” said Thorin graciously. “Our business is with the Black Land, whose armies threaten all free peoples of this Middle Earth. We seek no quarrel with any other place.”
“Quarrels we do not offer,” said the elf. His hair was so fair that it looked white in the sun, but the gleam of his armor gave it a golden cast. “Rather we wish to aid in your endeavor. We bring food, supplies, and would join our host to yours.”
“Then let your Lady come forth.” Something unkind seemed to lurk in Thranduil’s eyes, though Kili knew not why that should be so. “Surely in her wisdom and power, she might lead our alliance to victory.”
Stiffening, the fair elf spoke carefully. “Leadership of the host of Galadhrim that will march with you has been granted to me. My name is Haldir, Captain of Lothlorien. I will follow any choices made by your lofty triad, with due deference to be granted unto Thorin Oakenshield.”
“While the Lady may wait in comfort to see if our endeavor succeeds or fails,” Thranduil said, malice now plain in his voice. “In either case, her own fate is safe enough. One way or another, a peaceful grey ship will bear her hence. Let the lesser folk struggle with doom and great deeds. The Lady of the Golden Wood is above such matters.”
“You dare speak so?” Haldir drew himself up to his full height, looking Thranduil squarely in the eye. “It was in the salvation of your own wood and the clearing of the Tower of Dol Guldur that she faced alone the enemy whom you now gather great armies to face. When you have faced him alone, King Thranduil, the host of the Galadhrim will bow to you. Until then—”
“Oh, your lady is Galadriel,” Kili realized, inadvertently interrupting Haldir’s speech.
Haldir stared down at him with even greater affront. “The Lady of the Golden Wood deserves the respect of all people, Naugrim!”
Kili did not know the meaning of that word, but from the way Thorin stiffened suddenly at his side, he expected it was an insult. Nevertheless, he pushed himself forward. It was what Bilbo would do, and it didn’t seem like a terribly good idea to let the elves fight amongst themselves when there was more important work to be done.
“I’m very sure she does!” the young Baggins cried. “She saved my brother in that tower, you know. According to him, it was quite terrible, and he should have been entirely lost without her. Uncle Thorin, may we give her some sort of present before we go? I should like to cook for her, of course, as is traditional, but there does not seem to be quite time for that.”
“Cook for her?” Haldir blinked down at Kili in utter confusion.
“My nephew was raised by hobbits in the Shire,” Thorin said with amused indulgence. “Their ways are unlike those of elves and dwarves. I assure you, he means no offense with the suggestion.”
Confusion seemed to cure Haldir’s anger, for he bowed again. “I take none. We have heard the fascinating tale of Prince Kili from Lord Elrond of Rivendell, even as the plan for this alliance was revealed to us.”
“The plan for this alliance?” Bard asked mildly.
Haldir nodded to him once. “All the Galadhrim know that this shall be a War of the Rings. We know what Thorin Oakenshield carries, and that it gives him the right to command alliance from our Lady and Rivendell. This host is our pledge. Though fewer elves dwell in Rivendell who might march to war, I believe the army Lord Elrond intends to send will be numerous enough to present a challenge to the Black Land even without the rest of the alliance.”
Thorin raised an eyebrow. “I did not know Lord Elrond intended to send an army at all.”
“It may yet fail,” Haldir said. “The Galadhrim will not.”
“You are not actually pledged to the service of the Ring.” Seeming to forget his antagonism, Thranduil looked genuinely concerned for his fellow elf.
Haldir’s lips quirked in a slight smile. “All those who march with me are pledged to serve Thorin Oakenshield in the name of what he carries, as they would serve our Lady. I alone know the nature of that item, though rumor will abound.”
“Indeed,” said Thranduil.
“Has there been any word from Mithrandir?” Haldir asked in something of a non sequitur. It took Kili a moment to understand him.
“None,” said Thorin shortly. “As it happens, I anticipated my nephew’s desire to make a present to your lady. Surely, my husband would wish the same if he walked with us now. Therefor, I ask that you dispatch a messenger to carry her this.”
From Balin, he received a polished box of carved oak. Opening it by a golden latch, he showed the contents to Haldir and the other kings. Within lay a necklace of delicate mithril, caught upon it were white flowers made of polished moonstone set about perfect diamonds to form petals. Kili admired the nearly invisible settings and was amazed at the clever craftsmanship which must have gone into the working of such jewelry. The elves, too, seemed greatly impressed. Only Bard was not astonished by the beauty before him. He smiled at the necklace and Thorin with a reserved sort of fondness, like a father indulging the whims of a child presenting a daisy chain.
“A handsome gift,” said Thranduil.
“It was crafted by my own grandmother,” Thorin said, “and it could have no more fitting owner than the Lady of the Golden Wood. As Kili says, in his own clumsy way, Erebor is more grateful than words can express for the assistance your great lady gave my husband. Allow then, one of her own people to carry this expression to her, and my pledge that her actions will not be in vain.”
“It will be done,” said Haldir. “Messengers were to carry word to her of our crossing the river and joining your force. Now, they will bear an even more precious message than that. Great friendship will there be always between Lothlorien and Erebor while you are King, Thorin Oakenshield.”
“Let it be so.” Thorin nodded.
And so it was. Under Haldir’s leadership, the Galadhrim crossed the Anduin to join the alliance of free folk who marched upon Mordor. Keeping the Anduin on their right, the army continued through a land of dry grasses and rolling moors. Kili did not know if the place was simply barren in winter or if it was always so. He did not care. At last, Thorin was well enough to wear his armor and be trusted on the back of a goat without hurting himself. Thus was Kili freed.
When he rejoined the scouting party, the youthful prince grinned at Tauriel. “Did you miss me?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Walk in that direction and we shall see what attacks you.”
All the scouts laughed happily at that, save the three grave faced Galadhrim who were new to the party and did not know of Kili’s tendency to walk directly into danger. Perhaps Galadhrim simply were less inclined toward laughter than their woodland kin. They were certainly distinctive enough as a people in other respects. All had fair hair, ranging from yellow to the white of Haldir’s mane. While the elves in Rivendell tended toward darker features and the elves of the woodland realm tended toward natural colors like wren-brown or the sunset red of Tauriel’s beautiful tresses, the Galadhrim were almost uniform. Kili noted no exceptions among them. They also seemed slightly taller than the woodland elves, though that might have been a trick of posture.
In all, Kili preferred the more earthly wood elves. Perhaps Bilbo would call them less wise, but they were more fun. When he found a pack of wargs with an accompanying squad of goblins, the wood elves flipped and fought with dagger and arrow in acrobatic pleasure. By contrast, the Galadhrim scouts tightened into a sharp triangle, shooting from a distance with their powerful bows. Doing so kept danger far from their little group, but it was less fun than smashing the skull of the biggest warg in with an ax as Kili did. Deep within his heart, he suspected the Galadhrim were too wise to enjoy fighting at all, and he wondered if enjoying battle himself made him a bad person.
The Galadhrim held themselves apart generally, camping in grey tents which seemed to blend into whatever rocks or grass they were pitched upon. Around their fires, they played no instruments, only singing long, indecipherable ballads with lofty voices which Kili could not join. Nor did they drink anything save clear river water. Their food mostly consisted of very nice, heavy cake which they called lembas or waybread. Kili liked it, but he once again experienced the unpleasant pangs of jealousy when he saw the awe and deference Tauriel treated the new elves with. Mostly, he kept to the fires where he could play his fiddle and amuse his friends.
After several days, they came to a place where another river joined the Anduin as a tributary in its long journey toward the sea.
“This is the Limlight,” Tauriel told him. “It comes from Fangorn.”
“The forest of the Ents.” Tauriel grinned, as though sharing a great joke.
Wishing that he was a more studious child, for surely Bilbo would know what she meant, Kili asked helplessly, “Ents?”
“Oh.” As he knew it would, Tauriel’s face fell. “A story of the ancient world. I suppose only elves remember it.”
Greatly daring, Kili took her hand in his own. “Will you tell it to me?”
Blushing, she smiled. “The Ents were great spirits of the natural world. To them was trusted the care and shepherding of trees. Like trees in appearance, with bark for skin, beards of moss, and leaves to adorn their heads instead of hair, they guarded their forests with great care. It is said that Yavanna, wife to Aulë, rejoiced in them as a way of keeping the oldest and most beautiful trees from the axes of her husband’s folk at the beginning of the world.”
“You mean dwarves?”
“I do,” she said. “That is why I am surprised you have not heard tell of them. I would think dwarves would remember them in story, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else.”
“Perhaps they do!” Kili laughed. “I have not yet heard half the stories dwarves might tell. Ask me for the history of the Shire, and I may prove a slightly more knowledgeable speaker.”
Meeting his laugh with a grin, Tauriel looked down at their joined hands. “Love for the Ents proved a great tragedy.”
Face going tremendously hot, Kili nearly swallowed his tongue. “Is that so?”
“On one side of the river there is Fangorn, which you see. A great forest undisturbed by man, elf, or dwarf. Even today, one would be a great fool to cut living wood there. Few in number may the Ents be, but they protect their trees!”
“On the other side of the river, you see now the Brown Lands, but it was not always so. Once, the Ena walked here. Where the Ents loved the tall, wild forests, the Ena loved fruits and flowers. Not content to simply shepherd, the Ena cultivated gardens and fields. They were sowers of wheat and growers of apples. Where the Ents dealt harshly with any who might seek to harvest wood from their trees, the Ena welcomed the reaping of their wheat. Many folk, elves and men for the most part, though in some tales dwarves as well, would visit the lands of the Ena to study the arts of husbandry. Always, these students were fed with such plenty that they returned to their own lands fat and laden with fruit. Strange then, that their own husbands disparaged their lands, and did not visit!”
“Proud as they were tall, the Ents stayed among their trees. In winter, when fields lay fallow and no flowers bloomed, the Ena crossed the river to dwell for a time with their husbands. So it was that children came into being, and in their own time chose either forest or flower for the work of their life. But in the Second Age, Sauron rose up and burned the lands of the Ena until they were brown. The Ents did not aid their wives, and the Ena were forced to flee. Unforgiving, they dwell now beside the inland sea, beyond the reach of those who once they loved.”
“How sad!” cried Kili. “They must be forever parted now?”
“Would you forgive one too craven to aid you in your greatest need?”
Kili blinked. “I don’t suppose I’ll ever know what it’s like to love a coward,” he admitted. “But there is nothing you could do to make me stop—er.” Flushing wildly, he shut his mouth.
Tauriel kindly did not laugh. In truth, her eyes sparkled with warmth, not humor. Softly, she said, “You admire bravery, then, Prince Kili?”
Swallowing hard, he said, “Very much.”
Answering him, she bent to press a chaste kiss to his lips. “So do I.”