Consider the Elven Heart|
Inspired by “Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle and, of course, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Consider the elf for a long moment. An elf’s heart, in principle, is very much the same as mortal man’s. Both beat sixty times in a minute; both have four chambers. Both are roughly the size of a fist. An elf’s heart drives, sustains, fuels the strength of the elf. Eldar, people of the stars, the name given to themselves by the first elves who woke by the bay of Cuiviénen, gazed at the light of the stars, wandered through the forests, and wondered at their place in the world, their hearts thrumming to the sound of the leaves whispering in the breeze.
A wood elf can climb to the top of the highest tree in the forest. They can run as lightly, quickly, and sure-footed as the deer in the wood without leaving a single track in the snow. They can travel great lengths without rest or pause. And when they rest, they retreat into a world of waking dreams, returning to once pleasant days spent under generous branches and emerald leaves, or cool nights bathed in starlight. Consider for a moment those elves, searching for an odd moment of rest, of escape: high elves, low elves, Fair-elves, Deep-elves, Grey-elves, Green-elves, Silvan Elves, Sindar Elves, Dark-elves, Wood-elves—Galadhrim, Moriquendi, Calaquendi, Úmanyar, Teleri, Noldor, Vanyar, Sindar—each strong of heart, dreaming of peace, laying their cares aside for a brief moment, a pause in their unnumbered years.
For elves, blessed by Ilúvatar, the years fall by as numerous as the leaves in the forest, and still their hearts beat on, through autumn and spring, winter and summer, as sure and steady as the cold wind blowing down from Mount Mindolluin to beat against the high walls of the White City. And like the wind pushing against stone and mortar, the tonnage of years weighs on an elf’s heart. Even the strongest elven heart begins to feel the burden of that weight after so many years, each day, each month brimming over with love, laughter, tears, heartache, fears, and joy; the heart racing and slowing and yearning, twisting over choices that must be made or battles to be fought. All these years become a veritable ocean of feeling. It’s too much. Even the strongest elven heart can drown in the flood of all these feelings unchecked. At some point, an elf must slow down; he must escape. Elves need to rest, need to dream, to free their minds, to search for that which can bring reprieve, some measure of peace from the riot churning inside their hearts. Consider for a moment the elves who can find no such absolution. They waste away—not dying—but not living. The bright strands of their feär dim to shadow, and their elven hearts slow down to a plodding thud. If the elven heart grows too weary, its master will fade.
Consider for a moment a wood-elf trapped in a city of stone. He looks to the mountains behind him, to the plains before him, and even with the broad horizon stretched out as far as his elven eyes can see, his heart longs for the cool hush of the woods, the sound of many branches moving with the wind. Minas Tirith offers no such respite. Instead, he can hear the plain refrain of gulls on the distant Pelargir, and his heart clenches at each aching cry.
Perhaps if he came to the wall often enough, listened long enough, he would grow tired of hearing the gulls’ cry, that their incessant calls would cease to bother him, and if he could learn not to care, then maybe he could also teach himself to forget those dark days during the war. Each day after lunch, he comes to the wall; he stands and watches. He listens and waits for the sun to set.
“Legolas,” concerned friends tell him, “you have been out here at the wall ever since past noon. Won’t you come into dinner?”
But still he looks on; still his heart longs.
“Legolas.” This time one of his companions touches him on the shoulder. A man, the king of this city, and his own mortal heart worries at the faraway expression on the elf’s face.
Finally, the elf turns, his eyes still distant. “I am sorry, Aragorn,” he says. “I keep hearing them.” He attempts a small smile. “I’m sure it will pass.”
“Come inside, Legolas. Dinner will be served soon,” another one of his friends tells him. “I made a bet with Merry that he couldn’t fit four dinner rolls in his mouth!”
“I will,” Legolas assures them, smiling down, this time a real smile that reaches his eyes, at the one who had just spoken, one of his dear companions. “I will be right behind you. I just want to watch the sunset.”
Mollified, his companions head into the brightly lit courtyard behind him, and the elf remains at the wall, his alabaster skin warmed orange and gold in the dying light of the sun.
Legolas’ heart holds so much, so much over a hundred lifetimes of men. So much held in lifetimes of keeping watch over his homeland, staying vigilant to protect his loved ones, learning to fight, learning how to kill and defend. His was a lifetime coupled by joy and death. And now in peace, he hardly knows what to do with himself. The war was won; evil, defeated. Yet his heart cannot remember how to rest, cannot escape the horrors he has seen, the death he dealt out at the end of his long knives.
Once when he was an elfling, his father carved him a top, and his mother painted it a bright green and gold. He used to make a game of it, seeing how long and fast he could make the top spin until it eventually lost its center and toppled over. Spin, spin, spin—crash! The elf feels like that top, he has been spinning for so very long, and he does not know how to slow down, how to stop even.
One of the hobbits’ bright faces peeks around the corner from the courtyard. “Legolas, are you coming?”
The elf nods. He drags his eyes from the horizon and glances behind him, picking out the silhouettes of four smaller figures, a tall lean one, and a shorter stocky one, pointing and shaking his head. He can picture the way the hobbits’ eyes crinkle when they tease each other, Aragorn’s quick grin at one of Gimli’s jokes. Ah, his unlikely friendship with a dwarf…his unlikely friendship with all of them. And this time, instead of crying gulls, he hears the hobbits’ laughter and the underscore of Aragorn’s strong baritone chuckle.
His friends. His fellowship. His haven.