I woke after what felt like a cold, endless night. It took a long time for me to orient myself; my eyes recognized none of my surroundings and the sensations that accompanied them. Soft linen sheets encapsulated me and a warm glow like the radiance of sunlight beneath a canopy of trees illuminated the large hall. I could hear the distant chirping of birds and the meanderings of a breeze. It was most likely responsible for the outdoorsy scent in the room: wood and wild flowers.
There was a sole occupant in the room aside from myself, but she did not seem to notice me. Instead, she seemed focused on the tasks before her, nimbly moving from one to the next without making a sound. She folded away a pile of bedding, stuffed satchels full of dried herbs, rearranged a vase of flowers here and there…Oddly, I felt as though I had an intimate knowledge of her and this place, as if I had always been here. There was a cold within me yet that threatened to remind me of a forgotten nightmare, but the peacefulness of this place kept me from recollecting it.
As she left the room and went out into the hallway, I took a moment to look around me. There were several beds and dressers nearby which indicated that I might be in a hall of healing. A large hearth at the center of the long side of the room crackled with fire and was seemingly responsible for the warmth I felt on my skin. Chairs and tables with vases of flowers dotted the hall, adding an air of comfort and leisure about the place.
To my surprise, the elf maiden had reentered the room without my notice. I instinctively took in her raiment then: a pale, cream robe of delicate cotton…fine enough to never betray a sound of its wearer’s movements. The designs stitched upon it were reserved but elegant, much like the elleth whom it decorated. The gentleness of her movements allowed her to drift around the room, not attracting attention, but there was always a softness left behind…a flower perhaps or a carefully folded handkerchief that marked her passing.
Over the next few days, I learned her name, Eliriael, and much about her, though I never talked. She seemed content to leave me to my silent ways, not insisting on conversation or hovering as most healers do. At first I thought her rather negligent of her patients, never looking in my direction or inquiring about my needs, but preoccupied with filling draughts, watering her flowers, baking bread. Yet, without ever seeing her do it, I began to find a collection of items at my bedside. There was always a tray of berries, bread, cheese, and water when I was hungry. A sturdy walking stick appeared so I could entertain a walk out in the garden. When I had not spoken for two days, I found parchment and charcoal waiting for me. Perhaps she thought I would use it to communicate, but I used them for drawing instead, which gave me much comfort. I took these out into the courtyard to sketch all sorts of creatures and plants that made the garden into their home.
I learned as much of Eliriael from observing her garden as I did from watching her. It was neat and tidy without a dead leaf or weed in sight, but it was not orderly. There were no rows of flowers or fences to keep animals away. Rather, she seemed to have let everything grow precisely wherever it wanted and let the animals come and burrow, eat, climb whatever they pleased. An air of contentment hung in the air; every flower and squirrel pleased with its freedom. Life overflowed generously without restraint, though it did not encroach. It knew its limits and ceased without passing the boundaries of stones laid out for paths, fountains, and benches. The living and nonliving existed harmoniously together – everything peaceful and nothing at war with one another. As I sat on the benches and sketched for hours, I imagined that I, too, was a part of this garden and could remain untouched by anything except its tranquility.