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One of the reviewers warned me that, after the War of the Ring, Mirkwood did not revert to "Greenwood the Great", but that Thranduil and Celeborn had changed the name to Eryn Lasgalen – "The Wood of Greenleaves".
While I was aware that the name Mirkwood was not used any more (because it was cleaned of evil), I have to say that I totally forgot about this. Sorry, dear readers, my mistake. I guess my memory failed me this time. :)
While writing, I used the name "Greenwood the Great" in the whole novel, but from this point forward (which is still quite early in the story, fortunately), I'll change "Greenwood" to "The Wood of Greenleaves", or "The Wood" for short. As I said in the notes before the prologue (when talking about mithril/truesilver), I doubt that dwarves, who speak in their own language when talking to each other, would use the elvish word. I think that it is much more plausible they would use the descriptive name – The Wood of Greenleaves.
I hope that not a single "Greenwood" will slip my attention... :)
This is it. The moment is now.
If there was a line drawn between outermost trees left and right from the road, Darri would have crossed it with this step. A moment later, he took a deep breath. And now I am inside the forest. With every next step, the number of trees behind his back grew.
Inside the forest. Something that was not quite pleasant for any dwarf.
The road made of compacted gravel and earth was wide enough that about ten of them could walk parallel. It was well maintained by men from the Kingdom of Esgaroth and those from settlements on the western side of the forest; they used it as a trade route.
The trees grew almost to the edge of the road; between the road and the forest there were only a few feet of space covered with grass. Darri looked on both sides, and he couldn't take his eyes off the trees. He didn't recognize a single sort; unlike some other dwarves, especially traders, he had never been in The Wood of Greenleaves. In fact, he didn't know the trees at all – not even those on the slopes of Erebor – because his world was underground and ores. So this was the first time that he really observed the trees. After all, there was nothing else that he could observe now.
There were many shades of green and many different shapes of tree-crowns. But all the trees had one thing in common: all of them were huge. The big majority were several tens of yards high and he felt so very small; in fact, it seemed to him that their whole procession, no matter how long and numerous, was just a tiny speck in comparison to the forest around them. It looked like they walked through a tunnel closing around and above them, and that there was less light here than outside the forest, because the larger part of the sky was blocked by high tree-crowns; only a small narrow fraction was visible, and they couldn't see the sun. He shuddered, although it wasn't cold.
And this is just the beginning. How long have we been here? Quarter of an hour?, he wondered. And we're supposed to endure six days. By Balrog's balls, how wonderful...
But no matter the discomfort, it was impossible not to be impressed by the size of the forest. Whether he wanted it or not, those giant trees elicited admiration.
"How can anyone like living in such surroundings?" mumbled Faldur, and Darri turned his attention to his brother. On Faldur’s face he noticed discomfort that was probably visible on his own face too.
"Well, we know that elves are weird," said their friend Bemir and giggled. The comment brought some cheer into the atmosphere and broke the tension.
"Do you think we'll meet them?" asked Faldur.
Darri thought about it a little.
"Hmm... I don't think so. Those few that remained live in Thranduil's city, and this road is situated a lot further south from it."
"Fine with me," said Bemir, and Mami, who walked next to him, nodded as a sign of agreement.
"I, too, am cautious and sceptical when thinking about meeting the elves, in a way," said Darri pensively. "They are so very different than us. And yet, on the other hand... I can't say that I am not curious. It would be interesting to see them, even if only from afar, to see what they look like. Aren't you interested too?"
It looked like the others were thinking. Finally, Faldur nodded, while Bemir and Mami repeated they would rather not have contact with the elves.
Little by little, they went deeper into the forest. The road was a straight line for almost all the way, with just a few very gentle curves. The surroundings were the same all the time: thick forest on both sides. Around mid-day they had a short break, like in the previous days, and then they went on.
Soon after the sun set, they stopped. They had to use the road itself and the little grass area next to it for putting their sleeping bags, but there was not much space and it was quite crowded. Darri and Faldur spent some time with their friends after supper, and then they lay down to sleep.
The murmur slowly silenced, but Darri lay with his eyes wide open; sleep simply didn't come to him. It was quite dark, but not completely – here and there the reddish flame of fires lit the night. Now, in the night, the forest looked black. It was almost like the tree trunks were absorbing lights and they were invisible, while the leaves were like a drifting black sea. And there is no wind, Darri realized. Then why are they moving? And although all conversations stopped, it wasn't silent. Crackling was reaching his ears; then occasionally distant howling was heard, and sounds that reminded him of rustling. There is no wind, he reminded himself and shuddered. All the sounds were low, barely audible, but constantly present.
He didn't think himself a coward; more than once, he stepped into Erebor's unexplored tunnels and caves in search of ores, and every time he bravely faced dark dangerous passages. But this was something new, something mysterious, something he did not know. This was not pleasant at all, and he couldn't wait to reach the forest end.
One day down. Five to go. And four nights. Mahal, watch over me. Over all of us.
The first thing Halldis became aware of was someone shaking her shoulders.
"Come on, sleepy-head, it's high time to get up!"
She opened her eyes and saw Glorrim. He sat on his sleeping bag and she noticed that he was already starting the morning meal. Unlike yesterday, today the sky above them was grey and cloudy.
"I want to sleep more..." she whined and covered her head, escaping from the little light that cloudy dark dawn offered. But only a moment later, the strong hand shook her again.
"Get up! If you don't get ready on time, we leave you behind."
She peered again and looked at her brother. He pretended to be stern, but she noticed a poorly hidden smile on his face.
"By Mahal's name, you seem to be related to those pointy-eared ones!" he muttered, and then dedicated all his attention to his breakfast.
Halldis laughed, and then got up and stretched. The comparison was a good one; from what she could see during the first two days and nights in the forest, she was the only one not feeling unpleasant. Yes, in the beginning she was impressed by the size of trees – just like everybody else – but then she just continued to walk as she would do anywhere else. After the first night everyone was sleep deprived because spooky sounds echoed around – as if the trees were talking among themselves – so they were very upset and couldn't sleep. She, on the other hand, paid no attention to the sounds and slept just fine, both on the first and second night. Judging by the circles around the eyes of the majority around her, they were still disturbed by the forest's night sounds.
Today the weather was quite cloudy, but they were lucky – it wasn't raining. About two hours after noon they stopped for lunch. Halldis ate her way-bread and dried meat quickly, and concluded she had enough time for a short walk through the forest. While walking earlier, she thought she saw the first strawberries.
"I believe I could find some for us. I'll return soon," she told her brother and entered the forest.
As soon as she was inside, everything around her became darker. Great thick tree-crowns didn't let much light to the ground. From up close, the trees looked even bigger and Halldis concluded it would take at least twenty dwarves to circle them, holding hands. The ground was mostly bare earth, with grass and bushes here and there.
She directed her attention to the ground and merrily realized that she was not mistaken: there were a lot of strawberries around. She started to pick them and put them in a small leather bag she took with her.
In her search for the sweet berries, she slowly moved further away from the road. But although she couldn't see it because her sight was blocked by many wide tree trunks, she wasn't worried. She wasn't very far, and the noise made by hundreds of dwarves on the nearest part of the road was loud enough to serve as an unmistakable land-mark. She didn't mean to go much further and she was sure she couldn't go stray.
And just when she meant to turn around and start going back, after peering around one tree she discovered a small stream – six feet wide at most – and on the other side there were many big juicy strawberries. She stopped for a moment, having remembered the warning. But it said that we shouldn't drink the water, and that's something I surely don't intend to do, she told herself. All she had to do was to wade over the stream, and it was really shallow. She'll be in water only to her ankles, and her boots were waterproof. I'll only pick up the strawberries from the other side, and then I’ll return.
A moment before stepping in she halted one more time, feeling nervous because of the instructions again, and then she moved on. Three steps, and I am there. What could possibly go wrong?
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