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Moonlight On Summer Leaves

Chapter 1: Moonlight On Summer Leaves

by SilverMoonLady

Moonlight On Summer Leaves



Paladin sat, white curls thin as spun glass, gray eyes nearly lost in the laugh lines that traced over his face as he dandled his toddling grandson upon his knee. As the child swung back, head thudding softly into his elder’s chest, the tot spied the bright banner above and crowed, stretching chubby fingers upwards. Lost in the shadowed recesses of the feast hall’s vaulting ceiling, the fine embroidery that had been neglected and unmissed for so long shone anew. Paladin was again glad for the vivacious daughter-in-law chance had brought into his house. Her spirit, fierce and proud, had decried the shabby state of the ancient tapestry and had restored its bold lines and reset the cracked staves it had hung upon.

“Do you see the colors, Faramir my lad? Those are the pride and portents of your house and office, and have ever graced our walls.”

The little boy’s mouth hung wide in awed and happy exclamation. He recognized his grandfather’s ‘story voice’, herald of adventure and wonder, snuggled warm against his rumbling chest.

“See the harp and the bow amidst the greening leaves? It tells the tale of our folk, ere we came to this beautiful place.”

Pippin looked up at the changed words of the family story he himself had heard as a boy. History had always begun at the crossing of the Brandywine. He dropped the quill and parchment he had been handling with slow care, one of an endless stack of tasks now in his hands, and closed his eyes. He was still hungry for new tales, always would be, and now, every word from those dry lips was like a tiny treasure from a hidden hoard, all the more precious for knowing that it was finite and failing fast.

“For you see, once we Tooks were the lorekeepers of our people, and we sang as the fair folk did, of the greening earth and the Sun’s course across the sky. From them did we learn the strings of voice, the sweet music of life and song, ere we ever required the deadly silence of the bowstring. Oh, the bright words of the Nightingale’s Song and the sweet grief told of the Lost Maiden Of Lorien… So beautiful and bold they seemed to us, these fair descendents of the heroes of old, and so kind to share the light we would never do more than glimpse with our poor imaginations.

“Yet, darkness crept under the eaves of the forest bright, and the reach of Men grew overlong, and we fled that blessed country. It was long before we found a home again, and we wept that our teachers had left us unprotected while they looked to their own defense in the growing dark. It was in bitterness and fear we left the eaves of the Green Wood, and we have not looked upon their fair faces since. Long wandering roads brought us to a land rich and green, and we found that many of our kindred had traveled hence, drawn or pursued across the Misty Mountains. Though Men had already settled there, they were a friendly and useful sort, and it seemed to us a good place. We rested there a while, learning many things, growing strong and numerous again among the Bree-folk, tall and small, until again we were called to a place were we would be our own masters. Marcho and Blanco took us past the Brandywine, into this fair land, and ever after have we dwelt among these green hills. But we have forgotten our first teachers and the truth of the oldest tales, willfully, like children who would deny themselves a precious sweet for the sake of a stubborn grudge. The books… Even the books are gone, though a few still have heard the proper words, passed from aging mouth to youthful ear, as I did once, upon my father’s knee… Well, perhaps it is time we all remembered. What say you, Faramir, my lad?”

He gazed down at the sleeping child, a fond smile upon his lips, and thence beyond to meet his son’s wondering eyes. Not a lad any longer, though still so very young for the burdens he now carried. Paladin smiled his thanks to his lively daughter-in-law as she carefully scooped up the sleeping tot, who snuggled into her familiar warmth with a contented sigh.

He looked down again at his son, his young rascal of a son, now so serious and concerned, who had never seemed to care a whit for aught save the next dance and the next tale… Paladin nodded once, wordlessly, and watched him uncurl from the ground to rise, seeming to tower over him, and then strong arms wrapped about his frail limbs, lifting ever so gently and steadily, and he closed his eyes.


So light. Faramir, with his endless toddling energy, seemed a heavier burden than his father ever did anymore. Most hobbits got heavier with time, with treasure, with life, but some odd twist of inheritance had hollowed the quiet farmer and troubled Thain. His spare features were now naked of all substance save the pale light that lay just beneath his skin. A kind of peace and muted joy had grown in him though, even as the strength left his tired body and he gave all but his favorite task to others. Pippin was glad for the peace, but he was terrified of what it signified. He shifted his grip on one thin shoulder, surreptitiously jostling a reassuring breath from his father’s relaxed form. There had been a time, many months past, when Paladin had refused this help from anyone, confining himself to his rooms, until by force and humor he had finally seen reason. It was now familiar, this strange new ritual of carrying his father from the Hall, as he remembered being carried as a child, sleepy after long tales before the fireplace at home.

Tonight there had been again a change, subtle and nebulous, but as significant as Paladin’s acceptance of his own frailty. A door had opened, long closed, that Pippin vaguely recalled from childhood, as a fleeting glimpse of moonlit beauty and fair laughter.

“I think I should like to see elves… I’d forgotten that I wanted to until today…” Pippin heard him murmur.

“Elves, Da?”

“Yes… Do they still cross the Shire, going west to sail away?”

“No. All the ships have gone…”

“Ah… I have missed my chance then.”

Pippin considered his father’s thin face as he set him carefully upon the wide bed. A wistful and slightly disappointed expression wavered there, and in that moment he seemed to drift beyond some shimmering veil. Pippin instinctively reached to clasp the gnarled hand upon the quilted coverlet, not ready to face the inevitable parting that was to come. Not yet.

“Da?” he said, the slight tremor in his voice forcing it higher than it had been in years.

Paladin turned his gray gaze on him, clear and present, again firmly tethered to this plane by the small quiver of fear that had spoken through that single word.

“Son?”

“There are still elves, a few, if one knows where to look.”

“Really? Good…” He smiled, eyes closing sleepily.

“Da, wait, wake up…” He paused a moment, waiting for pale eyes to open, and he continued when they did. “I have an idea.”

“Hmm?”

“Listen. I want… I want you to tell me all the old tales, the true tales from the lost books.”

“That’s a rather tall order, lad…”

“Then choose… Choose one for every year of my life.”

“That’s more than a few, Peregrin. You’re not so little anymore.”

“Please, Da, a tale for every year, and I promise you elves, or at least one elf. Alright?”

The old hobbit looked up, amusement twinkling in his eyes. “It’s a deal, lad… A tale for every year, and at least one elf,” he said with a soft chuckle. “Now, go find your wife, you foolish Took. I have a tale to remember aright.”

*** *** ***

Gazing into the firelit hall through the round window, he saw the one who had summoned him and a small smile twitched at his lips. A tiny child curled sleepily in his lap, his friend sat upon the rich rug before the hearth, head leaning against his father’s knee. He could see the old one’s lips move, could make out some of his soft words as he gently stroked fingers bent with age through the soft silk of his son’s unruly curls. There were no others present, and the pale young maid in the entry hall had fallen fast asleep upon her little bench, tucked around a book that lay carelessly in her hands.

He slipped silently into the quiet dwelling, bowed nearly double until he passed into the large hall, where the high arched ceiling permitted him to stand at his full height. A flash of color from above caught his eye, and memory, long buried, stirred slowly in the far reaches of his mind. He let the image float upon the surface of his thoughts, knowing that detail would form on its own quicker if not forced, and he turned his attention to those seated at the other end of the room. He approached slowly, and now the murmured words came clear to his ear.

“…And it rises still, the brightest star in the night sky, that was always a sign of hope for all the peoples of the world.”

“And it doth shine ever anon, though most bright in valiant and loving hearts,” the elf added softly to the finished tale, a tale unlooked for here beneath the green hill.

All three of them turned, and he was met with wonder and welcome, and sleepy awe.

“Legolas! You’ve come!” Pippin said, rising swiftly, gap-mouthed toddler clinging to his shoulder.

The young hobbit was unchanged, save for the dark circles that shadowed his amber-green eyes and the lines of worry that had fled when he smiled. The Pippin he had known had rarely been conquered by such things long enough to be so marked by them.

“Your letter reached me in a happy hour, for I was deciding upon my course, West or North, and have thus found fate has provided a pleasant answer.”

Pippin smiled, and resettling the toddler on his hip, he grasped his friend’s long fingers, drawing him closer to the hearth. “This is my father, Thain Paladin Took, of the Shire,” he said softly, and Legolas could hear the catch in his voice, the slight tremor of sorrow so nearly hid.

The elf bowed gracefully and knelt to smile at the elderly hobbit, quiescent in his well-cushioned chair. “Legolas Greenleaf, at your service.” He saw the simple child-like awe in the clear gray eyes, a disbelieving and happily puzzled stare that took him in from head to toe in one lingering sweep.

“An elf…! Why, Peregrin, my boy, you keep even the most outlandish promises,” the old hobbit murmured.

“So long as you keep yours, Da,” Pippin replied, his smile brittle and false.

“’Tis forty-three tonight, my boy… The Mariner’s Tale I had saved for last, you know.”

“No. I am forty-four this month, you have at least one more to tell.”

“Would you have me wait until then to tell it too?” Paladin sighed tiredly.

“Da…”

“Ahh… We are puzzling our guest with our talk, Peregrin. Take the boy to his bed. We will keep quiet company together by the fire until you return.”

“But…”

“Go on, lad, now’s not the time.”

The young father pursed his lips, as if to reply, but he turned to quickly stride from the room instead. Legolas settled himself upon the hearth, his back to the small fire, and he gazed curiously at the frail figure beside him. Delicately old, skin nearly translucent and traced with the imprint of over a hundred years, Paladin Took was like a lantern only thinly shuttered, his spirit ready to fly upon the order of his will. The elf suddenly understood the urgency behind the short missive that had found him among the trees of Ithilien, and the barely contained anxiety in Pippin’s face. Death bent its firm but gentle hand upon the one before him, and his presence was a gift and a lure with which his young friend hoped to keep it at bay.

“You can see it, can’t you?” the old hobbit asked, eyes intent in the dimming light.

“What?”

“My last breath… It is not far off now.”

The elf nodded, still unsettled by death’s inevitability, despite its now familiar face.

“Thank you, for coming… For him.”

Legolas arched a questioning eyebrow, puzzled by his words. “I thought I had come for you, sir.”

“I will not say it isn’t grand to see what I merely imagined as a boy, but I would have gone contentedly a long month since, even without this. But Peregrin… My son is young, he feels the weight of the years we will not share. He wants to make up for lost time… But tell me, have you ever seen the Green Wood east of the mountains, Master Elf, from which we fled so long ago?” he asked, closing his eyes.

“Yes.” The elf glanced up, and now he saw clearly in memory and in sight, the harp and the bow, the circle of greening boughs upon a verdant field.

Legolas had always thought it a childhood fancy, the cool hollow under the shoulder of the hill, the smell of earth and grass and apples, the fleeting summer dream of a boy suddenly adrift. He had run as fast and far as his toddling legs could carry him, to the very edge of the wood, and much further than a child his age would normally be permitted to go alone. He had escaped his distraught minder’s attention and had dashed away from the lilting lament, convinced that if the farewell was not heard, it would not truly exist. Exhausted, fevered by uncomprehending grief and hunger, he had fallen and looked up to find round and smiling faces and soft hands upon his brow. Cool water, sweetened by the sun, had coursed over his tongue and he had fallen asleep, nestled in the comfort of muted song and cotton worn to velvet. He had woken in his father’s rooms, pillowed upon the empty bed, and had never spoken of the magical moment beneath the hill to anyone. He had never found it again, the cool hollow with its bright banner sheltering the childlike folk from the summer heat, the harp and the bow, and the greening boughs. It had all been a dream, hadn’t it?

Legolas glanced down to find his aged companion fast asleep, his breath shallow and quick, quicker than it ought to be. Pippin stepped quietly to his father’s side, lifting him gently from his chair.

“Let me help you,” Legolas said, starting to rise. But the young hobbit shook his head, walking once again from the room, with his precious charge well in hand.

The fire burned down to glowing embers as he watched, and the Moon’s pale face glanced in the window as Legolas watched the stars wheel in the sky. He had relaxed into reverie, awaiting Pippin’s return, but it was a long keening wail that pulled him from his silent contemplation. It grew, one voice becoming many, until the tunneled dwelling seemed a sorrowful horn echoing the grief of its inhabitants into the still summer night.

*** *** ***

The scent of honeysuckle, sweet and heavy, wafted across the assembled folk upon the green. The breeze playfully stirred the embroidered banner which had pride of place, hung in the boughs of the old oak at the heart of the gardens. Sun peeked through the leafy roof of the cool space where they had all gathered, and the tall elf had claimed a shady bower at the edge, where he had sight of his young friend. There had been much song and laughter, tales and anecdotes flowing freely with the wine and ale, though salted by the occasional tear. Finally, Pippin rose, glass in hand, and a hush fell upon the little glade.

“My father was a quiet sort. He spoke when he had a word to speak and not for love of his own voice. But what few know, is that on summer nights, when stars shot through the sky with light, and in the cold of winter, when wind and snow shuttered all souls in, he opened for us a case of treasures, gems of olden days, and his voice chased the hours to morning’s light. Last night… Last night, another tale was told, to satisfy a certain son… A tale to share today, with you.

“There was a boy, long ago, who was born in a time of plenty after a time of want, and his heart was light and filled to bursting with spring and song. He drank joy at his father’s feet and slept in the comfort of tales on his mother’s knees. When disaster struck, it did so with fell force, and his father’s voice was buried with her in the ground, and the boy sang no more. He forgot the sound of the harp, the music of laughter, all things of the joyous dawn of his life, until all things lost their spirit to his ear, save for the heavy drone of the bees in the honeysuckle, and even then, he recalled only that their melodic hum had once brought joy, and not the reason why.

“Fate brought into his life love, and with faltering steps he danced in the spring. It brought him children, and he laughed again in the summer. It brought him grief, and his tears wet the autumn earth. And after long silence it brought a ray of hope to break the winter of his sorrow. Moonlight stole back into his life, starlight kindled again in dreams long denied, and deep within his hidden heart, the harp’s broken strings began to knit themselves again. Though life would hold him to the earth, rooted deep now in his flesh, some part of his soul would fly. A promise had been made.

“Long years trod upon the promised bliss, the harp again lay still, but no longer unstrung, merely waiting for a hand to pluck the melody from its string. And on a night, long past wakeful waiting and forgetfulness, the song unfolded, unbidden, from the deep well uncovered by chance and love. The old tales have dripped word by word from hesitant lips, and down the long years they will one day again, when time has served its purpose, when the honey has become mead and looses the voice of the heart that can speak only truth.”

He paused, but not to check or wipe the tears that flowed freely down his cheeks, and a slow smile stole across his features.

“Let that day be now. Let every word of the old books be remembered, the old songs sung. Almost we lost this,” he said, reaching up to stroke the golden harp upon the field of green silk. “If we are proud, let us remember why. If we are fools, then let it be for truth. This is what he has left us, a treasure to spread without ending, to be again wielders of every string we were gifted with, of silent bow and thrumming harp.”