"My lady," said Hiris, with such a smile in her voice that Varwyn could see it though her maid stood behind her, near the entrance to her chambers. "There is a guest who begs leave to enter if–" a sweet, piercing note interrupted, and another chirruped in response; and as Varwyn turned, bemused, Hiris continued valiantly "–if you would receive him."
Him? Well, it could not possibly be her betrothed, for such was not permitted. By éothéodic tradition, a man might not enter her presence on this day of days until she had been married, and no one–not even her father–would dare the wrath of Éowyn of the Mark on such an occasion. "We married in Gondor, love, and barbarians that you are, you left the way to my chambers quite unguarded," her mother had been heard to say when Faramir had learned of her intentions. "But Varwyn shall have things rightly done, and it falls to a mother to protect her daughter's virtue on her wedding day." Since only a fool (and Varwyn had no intention of marrying one) would trespass when Lady Wraithbane watched the corridors leading to her daughter's suite it could not be Arthros. But who, then...?
"Only for a moment, my lady," said a voice whose mirth rang like bells and Varwyn gave a cry of delight as (to the dismay of her hairdresser) she shot to her feet, beaming, as Prince Legolas eased round Hiris, his eyes sparkling despite his mild expression. He made her a bow, and added then, "My apologies to your maids. I did not know you were yet unready."
"I have still plenty of time for such," Varwyn tried to evade her hairdresser, but the woman would have none of it and, placing a firm hand on her lady's shoulder, forced her to sit down again.
"And if you would hold still, my lady, we would not need such time," the stout woman replied. "There," she said after a minute, giving a braid a final pat, "'tis done."
"Thank you, Alith," Varwyn said with as much grace as she could manage, eager as she was to learn what errand Legolas could possibly have had to her that her mother would have allowed him to come to her today. "Come in, please, Legolas. What brings you here? How did you prevail upon my mother to let you pass?"
The Elf merely raised a pale brow and asked, "What makes you think, my dear, that your lady mother knows aught of my presence here?" Alith stiffened, and Hiris made a strangled sound, while Varwyn simply began to laugh.
"But I thought... but you....!" Hiris spluttered, gesturing towards the hall.
"Never fear, dear lady, as it happens, the Lady Éowyn and I spoke, and she granted me leave to come," Legolas relented quickly, seeing the woman's distress. "But perhaps you could leave us for a time...?" And such was elvish charm when turned in full upon the two ladies-in-waiting that after gaping in silence for a short while, the pair rather dazedly made their way out. The prince chuckled, but not unkindly, as he turned then to consider Varwyn. Unlike Men, his eyes did not flick over her, noting this and that jewel or bit of lace, but he simply stared at her, unblinking, eyes wide and unmoving as if to let her image sink whole into his mind. Finally, he held out his hands to her, and Varwyn made haste to grasp them, and he raised them to his lips, brushing a very courtly kiss across the back of either knuckle that raised gooseflesh on her arms. Impossibly green eyes fairly glowed with merriment as he glanced up and murmured, in all seriousness, "Ithilien shall be the poorer for its loss, but Tharbad shall be blessed. You are well-deserving of this day, Varwyn of Emyn Arnen."
"Thank you," Varwyn managed, wondering if she were blushing as spectacularly as she suspected. She felt warm all over as the Elf stepped back and made her a second bow, releasing her hands. Swallowing, she quickly shook herself and gestured to a chair, saying, "Please, sit down."
"Thank you. How is your lady mother, if I may ask?" Legolas asked, gracefully lowering himself onto a seat.
"Very well. Indeed, in her element, I should say, for you know how she is: æghwe gode and gerisenlyce gedón," Varwyn said, and laughed softly. "'All done well and fittingly' as they say in the Mark. But you have seen her."
"Indeed, I have. I regret that I was unable to come to her wedding, although I was invited as a friend of Gimli, who was even then a friend of your uncle. But she might well be the bride now, I think, for she is as young today as she was then," Legolas replied, and smiled in that way that Elves have, who are well content that, for once, memory mirrors nigh perfectly even mortal reality. Just then, another chirp sounded, and a sweet song began, quickly doubled when a second voice was added to the first. The Elf shook his head, blinking remembrance from his eyes, and then he rose, saying, "But today, the gift goes to another."
"Gift?" Varwyn asked, as the prince went to the door way and stooped to retrieve something left just outside, where she could not have seen it. And then she gasped as Legolas returned with two small, brightly feathered birds perched on one long-fingered hand.
"I am told that it is more customary to give horses at a Rohirrim wedding, or some other useful thing. Books, perhaps, for much though your father loves you, I think he does not love you so well as to provide three quarters of his library as a part of your dowry," Legolas said dryly. "Alas, I was not certain what you might have read already. But even had I, 'tis custom among us to give a mated pair of songbirds to the newly married. They remain with each other for life, and will not be parted, even as you shall not from your beloved. And you need not keep them caged—they know that they are to go with you." The Elf lifted his hand and said a word, and the birds, obedient to his command, departed to go and make their home upon the window sill. And despite the temptation of warm breezes and a magnificent ash outside the window, there they remained, chirping and warbling happily to each other.
"I... thank you, Legolas," Varwyn managed after a moment, gazing with awe at the creatures.
"You are welcome. I did not wish to wait to show them to you, for they seem quite incapable of remaining silent for any length of time, which might have annoyed your guests," Legolas replied, shaking his fair head.
"Well, I am glad of their company, for much though I love Hiris, it is hard to think of leaving, and she speaks of nothing but Tharbad of late," Varwyn sighed. Legolas merely made a soft, wordless noise of sympathy, and she cocked her head at him as she asked, curious, "Have you ever been there, Legolas?"
"Not of late. Always I have passed through Eryn Lasgalen and Imladris whenever I was called west of the mountains," he replied. And Varwyn, hearing the undercurrent of pain in his voice, thought, Of course, for he misses his home, and it is fading. Everything is fading for him. For an anxious moment, Legolas was silent, seeming far away, if one could judge by the look in his eyes. But then, he shook himself slightly, and the smile reappeared as he said, "In any case, I have not had the opportunity to see Tharbad for many a year. Since before the Rohirrim rode south, in fact. Ever the messenger was I!" He laughed then, and Varwyn frowned slightly, not quite certain of the jest. "Your pardon, Varwyn, I should not bore you with tales so long past that even your father, loremaster though he be, would not remember them."
"But I have always loved your tales," Varwyn hastened to assure him. "Do you recall when you first visited us?"
"I remember it well. For," Legolas said dryly, "you refused to speak to me for almost a day, and spent much of the time hiding either behind your mother's skirts or clinging to your father's leg."
"I was six, then; you were a great Elf-lord," Varwyn replied with great dignity. "Besides, I did warm to you, and it was because of your stories."
"Indeed? I had thought it was my incomparable ability to imitate a pony."
"And that," Varwyn conceded with a grin. "Father was of half a mind to invite you back and lock you in the keep to spare his back, I liked the game so well."
"Ah, but your father knows that we Sylvan folk pine when kept in cages. Although," Legolas added, with a wicked gleam in his eyes, "the prospect of watching a lovely lass emerge from the child might have made the years pass more swiftly than even an Elf is accustomed to. Ah! No blushes, my dear, for do not Men say you must save your bloom for your husband?" It was meant kindly, if in jest, for she knew well how foreign were such concerns to an Elf, who loved but once. Which only made Varwyn blush still deeper at being so teased. Because it is true enough—Mother can bear a compliment even from the king with grace, but let Father comment on her hair, and she blushes. Not for any other, but only for him. But I am not so made. For Varwyn had always felt herself drawn to Legolas. She could not remember the precise point when a little girl's adoration had transmuted into something... else–something wonderfully else, but uncomfortably else as well. For alchemy could not produce an elixir of life, and Varwyn was too well read in the lore and history of Gondor and the Númenoreans to believe that lightning might strike twice in so late an Age as this. All things fade. I have yet time to hope that gold might turn to lead, so that I may no longer feel pulled in two directions. For there is also Arthros, she thought, with a flutter of nervousness in the pit of her stomach. For she did love him, or she would not have agreed to his suit, but....
But. It was not quite the same, and Varwyn was too young, still, to understand the difference. But she knew that it was hard to look to her parents and not know what the future held for her. Would she be so happy as they? Would she eventually learn to love Arthros only, as Éowyn loved Faramir, or would she forever wonder what might have been, had she but been bolder?
Or more selfish, said the painfully honest little voice in the back of her head. Look at him! The Lord of South Ithilien and Prince of Mirkwood might look a very young man, but his eyes told otherwise, and she knew when he looked at her that she was barely more than a child to him. And if he himself had not yet achieved the gravity of the Elves, which seeks perfect rest under the sun, he would one day settle. That day might be postponed for as long as he remained in Middle-earth, with mortal friends and their descendents, who gave him reason not to withdraw from this existence into the dream-time of the Elves, wherein millennia pass by in the blink of an eye, leaving them unmoved, unchanged. And I shall be dust beneath dust by then. He may lose himself in thought for a time, and when he recovers his wits, I may be an old woman. What is it to him, a few tens of years? And what could I possibly be to him, save a weight dragging him down. If he loved me. But I know that he does not. There is nothing here to love–I am not Aragorn, to deserve Arwen's love, nor am I my mother.
That seemed to Varwyn unfair at times, and for awhile, when she had realized the unhappy truth of the matter, she had been cool towards Éowyn, even. At least I have outgrown that, she thought. And I do love Arthros, so mayhap this, too, shall fade. It may take many years, or the rest of my life, but I can be content. There is nothing to regret, for there was never anything in the first place.
"Varwyn?" Legolas's voice interrupted her thoughts, and Varwyn blinked, then hastily smiled.
"Mm? I apologize, I was wool-gathering. What was it that you said?" she asked.
"Are you happy?" Legolas asked, bending his bright gaze upon her with all the intensity of an Elf and prince among his people.
Varwyn was silent a moment, cursing the perspicuity of that question. But after a moment, she drew a deep breath, and replied, "Yes. I am." Legolas's eyes narrowed at that, and he cocked his head slightly, staring 'til Varwyn could no longer bear the pressure of that searching regard, and looked away. He knows! How could he not?
"Dear girl." Varwyn wanted to wince. Girl...' dear girl'.... Warm fingers slid beneath her chin and gently forced her to raise her head. Legolas stood gazing down at her and something about the sympathy in his face roused her ire.
"I am happy. Do not look at me thus!"
"Your mother's daughter in every way," Legolas replied, rather enigmatically, and laughed softly. Then, with a bit more force, though still his voice was wry with amusement: "Arthros does not know his fortune, I think. But he will." A pause, then, "I should leave, or even your lady mother may question our virtue!"
Varwyn rose then, for once glad to see him on his way, in order to have some time to compose herself. But she bid him farewell and thanks, and if he did not kiss her hand on his way out, he did touch her cheek lightly, and then just like sunlight between storms, he disappeared out of the room. With a sigh, Varwyn turned and wandered over to the window, where sat still the birds. Two pairs of bright black eyes stared at her, and one of them chirped in almost a questioning manner, which drew forth a smile from her. "At least you two are happy," she murmured. And I will be... I am. I knew he was not for me, and I have chosen Arthros, whom I also love. And Tharbad is a place where I may be useful, for there is still much to be done ere it regains its prominence.
All things fade, and all things end... and it is time to stop dreaming, child: you are not an Elf. Time to stop dreaming; time to wake up!
—time to wake up! Legolas closed his eyes a moment, and paused in the corridor without. How long have I dreamt that she would wake to what I saw, and so spare herself this? Short were mortal springtimes, and Varwyn's would fade soon enough; it was nearly bewildering to an Elf, to realize that within the short season he had known her—indeed, in the short season that she had been alive, even—already love was not innocent. For some years now, it has not been, and yet I thought that she had resigned herself better to Arthros. That she had not grieved him as he continued down the hall, but there was little he could do but hope that just as swiftly as the child's love had blossomed into womanly desire, desire could fix on another.
Certainly Varwyn wills it so, he thought, and that was a comfort. For she is her mother's daughter, he thought, and smiled as Lady Éowyn turned toward him as he passed. Never has any man said of Éowyn that her will was lacking, nor shall any man say it of Varwyn, I think.
"Is your errand done, then, Legolas?" Éowyn asked, and smiled radiantly in return.
"It is, lady," he replied, inclining his head politely. "My thanks for granting me passage."
"You have been as an uncle to her; family is always permitted," she replied, returning the gesture. But then her eyes flicked upward, as she darted a look at him, and she asked, "And since you have seen her, what think you?"
Legolas was silent a moment. It was clear enough what Éowyn wished to know, yet what could he tell her? Your daughter goes not gladly to her wedding day. Reaching out, he took Éowyn's hands in his and squeezed tightly as he said, very sincerely, "I think, my lady, that you are fortunate to have such a daughter as Varwyn, for she does you proud." With that, he bowed, and made his swift escape, leaving Éowyn to stare after him, perplexed. And he smiled sadly to himself, for as a friend had once observed, there is no more bitter pain that a man could know than to behold the love of one worthy, and be unable to return it.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.