Written for the 2010 June Challenge: The White Tree"
Element: _______ had a long way to go yet.
If Ever a Fruit Ripens*
These flowerbeds had a long way to go yet, Sam observed as he stretched his back. He felt a satisfying series of pops run up his spine and sighed. It felt so good to be gardening!
“And this sure is a cheerier place now that Strider and Gandalf found that new White Tree up on the mountain. The poor old dead one looked too sorrowful for all the good that’s happened,” he said aloud to himself, a habit he used to think his Gaffer silly for but had slowly succumbed to himself as he got older. If anyone ever bothered to ask about it, the Gamgees always said the plants liked a bit of conversation.
The White Tree stood in the central flowerbed in the large courtyard – which contained the fountain that gave the area its name. There had been a bed of sorts there before, the one the dead tree had stood in, but it had been enlarged as part of the King’s efforts at bringing more of nature into his stone city. The marble of the fountain was black making a nice contrast to the tree and repeating the look of the city’s banners, White Tree on sable field, flying from the pinnacles and parapets. When the wind was right, mist from the fountain sparkled upon the leaves and blooms of the tree.
Sam walked over to take a closer look at the hallowed tree. Its bark seemed to be a series of nearly smooth patches, as though someone had torn up various textured papers, in three or four shades of white, and glued them to the trunk. Like to the look of a sycamore but in fewer colors. Drawn in, Sam stepped up into onto the mounded soil, reached out and brushed the trunk with his fingertips. It felt like the finest heavy papers. His fingers tingled, awe filled his heart, and he let his hands drop away from the tree.
He looked up. From where he stood it looked as though all the leaves were silver, for indeed their undersides were. Yet he knew that from across the courtyard the tree looked a deep, dark, shining green. And everywhere, on every branch-tip, there were glistening white blossoms with a touch of faint gold on the inner petals.
“There’ll be a right good harvest whenever all this fruit ripens,” Sam whispered. Ever the gardener, Sam’s thoughts followed the natural course of blossom to fruit (or nut) and then the harvest. “Strider will be able to have whole groves of White Trees.”
“If only that were so, young gardener.”
Sam jerked around. A fair lady stood behind him on the mound of the flowerbed.
“The flowers linger long then slowly do they wilt, usually to be replaced with more blooms. Rarely does a fruit appear and less often still does one grow to maturity.”
“Seems against nature, that. If you don’t mind my sayin’, ma’am.”
She laughed, a sound somehow both blissful and doleful. “I had not seen it quite that way before, yet I can see how it seems so. But it is the way of this tree. Each generation that is removed from its progenitor has become less prolific, and so it is not against its nature though it is unlike that of all other trees of the world.”
There was something odd about his companion. Discreetly, Sam looked her over. She did not seem to be a woman of Gondor. They had a feel of the mountain about them; not cold like the stone of their city but solid, dependable, like the mountain the stone was quarried from. Her clothes were of a strange style, one that, for all his travelling, he’d not seen the like. Her long white hair covered her ears, so he could not see if her ears were pointed. She seemed Elvish, yet . . .
“Have you decided about me, little gardener?”
Sam felt his blood rush to his face. “Ah . . . um . . . eh.”
“You are a rare treat,” she was obviously pleased with him. “You are honest even when it discomfits you. I am . . . a friend, yes, a friend to the Elves and to . . . Mithrandir and to Iarwain Ben-adar as well and many others of the old ones who dwell still in Middle-earth. I would be a friend to you as well, young gardener, if you will allow it.”
Sam bowed low. “I will be happy to count you as a friend, my lady.” He straightened and looked into her eyes. “My name is Samwise Gamgee. I’m a Hobbit of the Shire and am at your service. Is there a name I should call you?”
She gave him a graceful curtsey. “You may call me Elen.” Again, she laughed. “You would know more of this tree, would you not, Samwise Gamgee? A gardener’s heart always wishes to know all it can of the creatures that spring forth from the ground. Place your hands upon the White Tree again, little gardener and learn of him.”
He did as he was told, feeling her gentle touch on the back of his hands as his palms felt the bark of the tree beneath them.
He saw before him in a vision a vast and beautiful city, gleaming with light and power. Before a gate of the city, upon a mound, stood two trees. One glowed like living silver, the other like living gold. The lights of them mingled in a joyful dance. Then, as though drawn upon the sky, images of the trees rose to float against the darkness of a night sky and beneath them two names appeared: Telperion and Laurelin.
On the world below them there appeared a new place; a hill in a cleft between tall mountain-walls and upon it there appeared a city that in his heart Samwise knew to be a city of the Elves.
Then, on a hillock before the hill, a beautiful glowing woman sang and her song brought forth another silvery tree, like to the other though it did not glow with its own light. And the Elves planted the new tree in the largest court of their city, and, as time flew past, Samwise watched the White Tree mature. This tree, as he would expect, brought forth fruit and seed and many were it’s descendants. Then an image of that tree arose to settle in the sky below Telperion and it was named Galathilion.
Then an island appeared in the sea, eastward, beyond the breach in the mountain-wall. Elves dwelt upon it, yet for a reason unknown to the Hobbit, they did not leave its shores to join those of their kind who dwelt upon the hill. One of their hill dwelling kinsmen gave to them an offspring of Galathilion which grew and multiplied upon their island realm. A likeness of this tree rose to join the others and Celeborn was written below it upon the sky. And Samwise knew many years of time were passing in the world.
A new island arose to the east of the first and upon its shores there came Men. And they were loved by the Elves who brought to them many gifts, one of which was a silvery white sapling from the fruit of Celeborn. And its image rose and it bore the name Nimloth and in the twilight of the day it would bloom and fill the darkness with its fragrance.
Years sped by and the fairness of the dwellings of the Men dimmed. Samwise perceived a man going to the courtyard of Nimloth which was set about with guards. With stealth the man plucked a fruit from the tree and, though gravely wounded by the guards, he managed to escape. And the seed was planted in a large urn where it took root, sprouted and grew. Soon after, Nimloth The Fair was felled. Evil increased upon the island of Men. Some few took to boats, their families and goods with them, and upon one of those ships Samwise saw the small White Tree in its urn.
The ships sailed to Middle-earth before the island behind them sank. Then there marched forth into the world Samwise knew as his home, the Dúnedain, the Men of Númenor. To Samwise’s eyes all the world was then laid out as a map and a White Tree bloomed first in what he knew would, in his time, be an accursed spot: Minas Ithil. He saw Sauron arise and a ghost of the Tree rose to stand below Nimloth The Fair in the sky. A seed was planted and a White Tree bloomed again, this time in the very spot where Samwise now stood, but a Dark Plague came and the tree withered and its spirit fled into the sky. After a short passage of years, a seedling appeared and a White Tree again flourished in the mighty city of Men.
But the line of the Kings ended and with it the White Tree, and one last ghostly tree rose into the sky to settle in the line below its fathers. But this time, it seemed there had been no ripened fruit, no seed to save, and the White Tree stood dead in the high, stone court yard.
The images of the line of Telperion faded from his eyes and Sam stood staring at the shining tree’s living scion.
“There was always hope, little gardener, and here does it grow before us.” Her voice softened and seemed to float on the gentle breeze. “As time passed on in the lives of the mortals of Arda the strength of the White Trees waned. The line weakened. There were fewer trees in each grove that followed Galathillion, that which was made new in Telperion’s likeness by she who sang the First Tree into being. Until it was that there were no groves, only a single tree upon which the fruit grew less frequent and less hardy.”
She reached up to part the branches of the White Tree.
“Yet, here grows a young fruit, friend Samwise Gamgee.”
Sam looked at the small sphere at the base of one delicate blossom. It looked like a pearl, its skin smooth and iridescent.
“Will it mature, Elen?”
She paused, caressing the young fruit with her gaze, and then she smiled. “There is always hope, little gardener.”
“I hope it will mature so that Stri . . . King Elessar that is, may plant it.”
But he received no answer, for Elen was gone.
Two weeks later the Elves of Rivendell and the Elves of Lórien arrived and Middle-earth was blessed by the joining of King Elessar and Queen Arwen. Nineteen days after the wedding the escort of King Theoden was making ready to leave Minas Tirith. With it would travel King Elessar and his Queen, the Elves of Rivendell and Lórien, Legolas and Gimli, Frodo Baggins the Ringbearer, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took.
Very early, before the sun had fully risen on the day they were to leave, Sam hurried along the streets, up the mountain, to the Court of the Fountain. He wanted to have one more look at the White Tree.
Elen was there, watching the path he walked as though waiting just for him.
“I didn’t expect to see you here, my lady Elen. You left so suddenly before and I’ve not seen you since. Not here nor elsewhere.”
She smiled, holding out her hands for him to take as he walked up upon the earth surrounding the White Tree.
“But I expected you, my dear little gardener. There is something we both wish to see.”
She parted the branches above her head and now a fully mature fruit shimmered upon the end of a branch.
“How has it grown that much so quickly!” Sam gasped.
“It had need to.” She said and she plucked the living gem and handed it to Samwise. “You leave today to return to your country. This had to be ready for the journey.”
“It . . . I . . . eh . . .” Sam stared, his eyes large and round with amazement. The pearl-like fruit filled both his cupped hands.
Elen knelt upon the fertile soil of the flowerbed to be eye to eye with the Hobbit.
“You are to take it and plant it by the light of the stars on a clear night in whatever spot you feel is most blessed in all of your homeland. You will not see it sprout nor shall your children, nor theirs, nor many generations that will follow. I do not know how long it will rest in your country’s rich soil, but there it shall sleep until a time comes again when it truly seems all hope is lost. But hope is never lost, my young friend. The White Tree will be there to sprout and grow strong when its strength and blessing are needed most, to let all the free peoples of Arda know that they are never forgotten.”
She placed her hands upon his shoulders and kissed his forehead in a gesture of blessing.
“Go now, before the others in your house arise. None must know of this for fear that in knowing someone may seek to dig up that which you plant. Fare thee well, Samwise Gamgee, my dear little gardener.”
“Yes, my lady Elen. I will do as you say.”
Sam tucked the seed, still clasped tightly in one hand, into his jacket pocket, bowed his head to Elen, and trotted off. He turned to look back just before he left the courtyard. It seemed that both the White Tree and Elen were glowing, just like the last star that still hung in the western sky. Then he hurried on his way.
In a darkened archway at the edge of the Court of the Fountain, the new King stood. He had come to think and to gaze upon the last star of the morning. Without meaning to, he had seen and heard the conversation beneath the White Tree. As Sam disappeared from sight the lady turned to stare directly into the King’s eyes and a great light shone about her.
Aragorn trembled: falling down upon his knees, lowering his gaze. Elen, the Hobbit had called her. Varda Elentári Isildur’s heir knew her to be. A queen of the Valar. Tintallë, The Kindler. She who made the lesser stars, and then made the greater stars from the light of Telperion himself.
“Rise, heir of Isildur.” Her voice filled his mind. He stood.
“You know what has passed between the little gardener and I?”
“I do. Though I had not intended to intrude.”
“You were meant to be here or you would not have been. Guard well the land of the Hobbits for as long as your kindred are able and tell no one what you saw and heard this day. Record only, for those who will come after you, that the White Tree will live on.”
He bowed to her. “I will.” His thoughts replied.
“My blessing is upon you, Elessar heir of Isildur,” she spoke aloud and her bright light faded into the light of the rising sun.
Several months later, in The Shire, in Hobbiton, just after midnight on the day he planned to plant his mallorn seed in the party field, Samwise Gamgee crept into the garden at Bag End. Though the old hole was not yet ready for habitation Sam had already been puttering about the gardens, repairing the damage first Lotho then Sharkey had done to them. Under the brilliance of the stars on that crisp winter’s night he planted the seed of the White Tree.
“’Tis the most blessed spot I know of in the whole of the Shire, my lady Elen.” he said aloud as he patted the piece of turf he had cut back into place.
If Ever a Fruit Ripens*
Chapter End Notes:
*A/N: The title is taken from “The Steward and The King”, The Return of the King.
After finding the sapling, Gandalf admonishes Aragorn: “Remember this. For if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world.”
*Also, my apologies to lovers of the Valar and the early ages, the lovers of the Elves and those who love the noble lines of the race of Men for any inaccuracies or slights this story may contain. I did research until I feared the story might not get written at all because of the time the research was taking.
I really ought to stick with my Hobbits, but I firmly believe in going with the story my muse gives me . . . and I have a sneaky muse. ;-)