4. Of Elven Princes and Arranged Marriages
They moved to one side and spoke softly, their hands clasped formally before them in a way that told all other elves in the vicinity that this was a private conversation. “I think you must be aware of what I wish to speak,” Narmeril said to him. “Our children’s participation in the Gathering Trials signifies their warrior’s coming of age, and as such…new responsibilities to the future must be made.”
Thranduil fought the urge to sigh. He had known this conversation would be taking place this year, and indeed he would be astonished if Narmeril were the only one. “Of course, you are right, my lady. What would you propose?”
Narmeril smiled in a conspiratorial fashion and nodded discreetly in the direction of several of the morning’s competitors. “As you know, my lord, your son the prince and my daughter Lady Merilin have been close friends for many years. She is an unquestioned daughter of Mirkwood and has rank to make her, er, acceptable to our people. She proved herself well today, and she is a most upright and sensible young…”
With a forced chuckle, Thranduil raised his hand to cut off the list of Merilin’s attributes, “You needn’t convince me of your daughter’s fine qualities, my lady, she is a credit to you and our people. But I am sure you will understand when I say I would not see either of our children forced hastily into a match. They have only just completed their novice training this century, and one or both of them may have doubts. They may be uncertain of their regard for each other, and I would not wish to pressure Merilin or Legolas on the subject.”
“No, indeed,” Narmeril said hastily, though she appeared to be hopping with eagerness to match Legolas to her daughter. “But, my lord, if you’ve no other objection…you would speak with Prince Legolas?”
Thranduil nodded formally, “I will discuss your suggestion with him.” He knew Narmeril had made more than a suggestion, but he firmly qualified it as such to keep her from getting ahead of herself. “Have you approached your daughter on the subject?”
“No, my lord,” Narmeril sounded slightly affronted; it would be improper to suggest marriage to a prince before the prince himself had been informed of the idea. But Thranduil would not have put it past her to try and plant the notion in Merilin’s head. “By your leave, however, I shall.”
Surreptitiously, Thranduil regarded Narmeril’s daughter, standing among a group of Mirkwood elves singing songs of “The bow of Mirkwood and the hand and eye of Legolas.” She was a handsome creature to be sure, tall with a tint of unusual red in her dark hair, bright green eyes, and fair skin. And it was true that she and Legolas had been friends for many years, yet…Thranduil simply could not bring his mind to picture his youngest son wedded, to this bride or any. Legolas still seemed so young…well, he was young, for that matter. The true date of his second coming of age was not for another thirty-four years, but it fell within the timeframe for this Gathering, so it was officially recognized today. Legolas was actually the youngest of the participants in the Gathering Trial, a fact that had made his victory all the more sweet to his people.
But, Thranduil decided firmly, that fact also made him far too young for marriage. He should probably have simply quashed the subject straight away rather than let Lady Narmeril draw any false impressions. Perhaps he needn’t trouble Legolas by raising the issue at all. With that in mind, Thranduil turned away from the royal chambers and walked back into the crowd, intending to speak to Narmeril again. Before he could reach her, Mithrandir moved to join him. “From the look of you, I fear a distasteful subject has arisen on this joyous occasion, my lord.”
Thranduil hesitated, then decided there was no reason to distrust the Maia. “Not distasteful, my friend, merely startling from a father’s point of view. Lady Narmeril has made an offer of her daughter Lady Merilin as a match for my son Legolas.”
The wizard appeared puzzled, “I would not have thought Lady Merilin lacking in worthiness after today’s competition--”
Thranduil raised his hand quickly, “You mistake me, Mithrandir, I’ve nothing against Lady Merilin. Indeed, she is a fine, upstanding Lady, more than worthy of any of my sons. My objections come on behalf of Legolas.”
“He would find her unacceptable?” Mithrandir asked in surprise. “I had the impression they were old and dear friends.”
“Oh, but they are; again I give the wrong impression,” Thranduil shook his head wryly. “My concern comes from my son’s age, or perhaps I should say, his lack of years. I believe he is yet too young to consider such a thing as marriage so soon after attaining his full mastery of the warrior’s craft. That is why I intend to decline the Lady’s offer.”
Mithrandir did not speak for a moment, his bushy grey eyebrows slightly furrowed as he digested this. Thoughtfully, he asked, “Have you spoken to Prince Legolas about this?”
“I feared the unexpectedness of the offer might alarm him,” Thranduil explained matter-of-factly. “I would not wish to sully this moment for him with this…rather embarrassing business.”
“Indeed.” Mithrandir frowned again, then said slowly, and rather carefully, “Perhaps, my lord, with respect, you should reconsider broaching the matter to the prince. Seeing as how it concerns him so personally, and as you say, he will probably find himself unready to consider marriage as well, there would be no harm in it. He might even be amused.” At Thranduil’s frown, he smiled and continued, “After all, my lord, Legolas has come of age, officially if not literally, and I suspect he would be quite pleased to be allowed to consider the matter himself, even though his opinion of the match will likely be the same as yours. It is his right, after all, to at least know that the offer has been made.”
Thranduil considered Gandalf’s words, but was doubtful. “Perhaps you do not realize that the young occasionally make impulsive or even foolish decisions, my friend. On a subject as important as marriage, it is vital that Legolas be guided.”
Mithrandir replied, “Prince Legolas seems to me a most capable and sensible young elf, my lord. Although I myself may no longer be young, I have been amongst the young for many years, and I think that in the end, though they are sometimes foolish, they can be surprisingly rational in serious matters. I have known you and your children for some time, and I have seen nothing to suggest that your youngest son could not be trusted with this choice. And there is no reason why you could not let him know of your own doubts.” Putting a hand on Thranduil’s shoulder, he said earnestly, “Consider letting him make the final decision regarding the match to Lady Merilin, my lord. Though he is young yet, Legolas is grown, and he must begin to know his own mind, and think for himself. I suspect you will be pleased with how he has turned out.” With a knowing smile, the wizard released the king and moved away into the crowd. King Thranduil stood digesting this for several minutes before turning back to the royal chambers.
Walking out of habit into his son’s chamber without knocking, Thranduil came upon Legolas fast asleep on his bed, his formal clothes laid out but not donned. A smile formed unbidden on Thranduil’s face; he had wondered what was keeping the young champion from his many admirers. Perhaps the talk could wait. Legolas appeared to have been sitting on the bed preparing to change and had simply put his head down and fallen right into dreams. He did not seem to have moved at all since then, and even for sleep, his eyes looked heavier-lidded than usual.
*He must be quite worn out,* Thranduil thought with another smile. It was just as well; the banquet would end late and it wouldn’t do for the prince to fall asleep when his presence was most definitely required. His appearance was not needed just yet, so a short rest would not hurt. He looked so childlike--Thranduil put out a hand and stopped himself from touching his son’s head. Rising quickly before his emotions got the better of him, he left the room and closed the door. He would come back and wake Legolas later when it was time for the banquet, and tell him about Narmeril’s offer.
Back among the guests, Thranduil sighed, hearing the Mirkwood elves’ song referring to Legolas as a “form in manhood,” and other similar praises. Yes, it was as Mithrandir had said. Though he was young yet, Legolas was grown. Thranduil’s youngest and last before the death of his queen. Legolas could scarcely remember her; he had only been twenty-two, still very much a child, when Minuial had gone to the Mines of Moria, attempting to salvage relations between the wood elves and the dwarves. Thranduil had waited for nearly a hundred years before telling Legolas how his mother died; she had perished along with two hundred dwarves in an attack by an unspeakable demon, awakened by the dwarves’ careless mining. The dwarves still hoped to dwell in Moria, but no elf would go there willingly. Thranduil often regretted having told Legolas the truth at all, but his eldest son and heir, Crown Prince Berensul, had insisted at the time that it was his brother’s right to know. All the same, Thranduil had once heard the servants remarking that Prince Legolas had terrible nightmares sometimes.
He broke his mind away from these difficult thoughts and surveyed the crowd again, milling in the rooms with their walls opened wide to reveal the forest, which gleamed red and gold as the sun set. A number of the competitors and their young friends had chosen this room as their meeting place, and there was scarcely anyone there within three thousand years of Thranuil’s age. He hoped he had not been too distracted while speaking with Mithrandir, lest some of these mischievous young ones overhear their conversation. Legolas did not need his victory of the day being overshadowed by gossip over who his bride might be. Especially when his father still could not bring himself to admit that Legolas was ready to take one.
Faron of Imladris, to his credit, had not been attempting to eavesdrop while he waited for Prince Belhador outside the royal chambers. But as they went to join their friends, they happened to pass King Thranduil and the wizard Mithrandir just as they were speaking of Legolas and Lady Narmeril, and specifically, of a “match.” There could be only one reason why Merilin’s mother and Legolas’s father would have been talking of matches on a day like today. Belhador stiffened in astonishment, and it was all Faron could do not to freeze in his tracks.
It was not as if the talk of marriage was absent from this Gathering, in fact, it was a matter of some importance every time. Participation in the archery competition was limited the elven warriors-in-training who reached a particular age during that century, and a novice could only compete once. It signaled the second coming of age, when an elven warrior was ready to completely take on the responsibilities of adulthood--meaning they could begin joining war and hunting parties as equals rather than novices…and marry. Any elves who made it through the rigorous physical and disciplinary demands of warrior training became highly eligible and much sought-after matches. And the Gathering of Realms provided the greatest opportunity in any hundred year period for the parents of noble elves in this group to meet and discuss matches along with the business of Middle Earth. There were always wagers cast (Faron had wagered a pearl on Princess Lalven and Lord Eregolf of Lothlórien), and it was a given that before the end of the Gathering, some betrothals would be announced, hopefully to the joy of all concerned.
But Legolas and Merilin?
When one thought in a practical way, the idea made sense; Merilin was a ranking Lady of Mirkwood and well-regarded and proven among their people, more than acceptable to the king’s family. Legolas was a prince and judging by his performance today, any elf lady would be glad of a marriage to him. But as a friend of them both…the idea seemed utterly bizarre. They were friends, yes, but their relationship had never gone beyond easy camaraderie in the training fields and halls of Mirkwood.
When they were a safe distance away on one of the balconies, Faron and Belhador turned to each other and exclaimed simultaneously, “Did you hear that?!”
Then they both paused and laughed helplessly. Belhador gripped the sides of his head in amused dismay, “I had entirely forgotten that Legolas would also be of marrying age now. I should have suspected there would be offers to him, but…Merilin?”
Faron had been thinking on it, and finally said, “I suspect this match was to the mind of Lady Narmeril, rather than Merilin. I cannot imagine either her or Legolas instigating such a thing. They do not seem, er…”
“Soulmates?” offered Belhador, and they began laughing again. “Poor Legolas, he will be so mortified.”
“To say nothing of Merilin,” Faron agreed. “We should place a wager on which of them says no the most swiftly.”
“It would be a tie,” Belhador laughed. “By Iluvatar, I am not ready for this. I had not even considered who might seek a match to my brother. My youngest brother, being offered marriages. These next two days are going to be frightfully amusing.”
“For shame, Brother,” Princess Limloeth had come up quietly while they spoke. “You may amused, but Legolas will not be. Poor boy. Think what an ordeal your coming of age was--how many offers had you before the end of the Gathering?”
“Four,” Belhador admitted, grimacing at the recollection. “None of them even remotely tempting. For that matter, it has been centuries since, and I still have not been tempted. Of course, I might have received more if Berensul had been married by then, but he was not. Most of the lords and ladies were attempting to foist their daughters upon him rather than me.”
“For which you are eternally grateful, I’ve no doubt,” remarked Prince Berensul, walking up to them. “Why the sudden talk of matches? Has someone received an offer?”
“Can you not guess?” demanded Limloeth, looking disgusted.
The Crown Prince of Mirkwood frowned thoughtfully, as though running all the eligible young elves through his mind. Then his eyes popped open. “No!”
His siblings and Faron burst into laughter. “It has happened, I fear, my brother,” Belhador gasped, wiping tears from his eyes.
Lowering his voice to a delightedly scandalized whisper, Berensul asked, “Legolas?” At their nods, he demanded, “Who?”
Struggling to control himself, Faron grinned, “The Lady Merilin.”
“What?! Impossible!” Berensul exclaimed.
Affecting a pose, Limloeth replied, “Why not, Brother, she has rank to recommend her, and she placed fourth in the Trial today. What objection could one have to such a marriage?”
“I object to incest, Sister, and that is how it would seem,” Berensul retorted.
“You are right, my lord,” Faron agreed. “Indeed, I think that is why I found the idea so disturbing in the first place. Legolas and Merilin have been comrades in arms all throughout their training as novices. We are taught that we are brothers in training. I do not know what possessed Lady Narmeril to suggest such a thing.” He moved away to peer back into the crowded hall and see if Merilin showed any sign that her mother had broached the subject yet.
Limloeth pulled a face, “Lady Narmeril’s skill at arranging advantageous marriages for her daughters is will known. I suspect she looked too closely at the advantages such a marriage would bring and not at the drawbacks.”
“Such as the very strong likelihood that both her daughter and Legolas will be violently opposed to the idea,” Belhador observed wryly. “What a relief that our father has at least been sensible on the subject of our marriages. He would not push Legolas into a union without making sure it was to his liking.”
“I wonder how Father will feel when Legolas finally does choose a bride,” Limloeth murmured thoughtfully. “He is his…he is the last, after all. Father will be lonely without him.”
Berensul’s expression darkened somewhat, “I fear for everyone’s sake the day our father becomes lonely.”
Just then, Faron came back. “Poor Merilin looks rather dismayed. I suspect Lady Narmeril has told her of the offer.”
“And very much like her reputation, Lady Narmeril doubtlessly made the offer without bothering to determine her daughter’s feelings on the subject,” Limloeth remarked, narrowing her eyes. “At least Legolas will be done that much courtesy.”
“Speaking of which, should he not be here by now?” Berensul observed. The group looked around and could see no sign of Legolas in the crowd. “He returned from the training rooms some time ago.”
“Perhaps we should see what is delaying him,” Belhador suggested.
“Go then, but Belhador,” Berensul waited until his younger brother looked at him, “say nothing of the match. It is the king’s prerogative to speak with him.” Belhador paused, but evidently agreed and nodded, hurrying through the crowd to the hallway leading to the royal chambers.
He entered his youngest brother’s chamber and nearly groaned; Legolas must have fallen asleep after returning from the Trial field. If the newly-recognized warrior did not make an appearance soon, Thranduil would come searching for him, and all the glory of Legolas’s victory would be soured by his embarrassment. Like all elves, Legolas had a desire for self-improvement, but the youngest of Belhador’s brothers was perfectionist to the point of being obsessive.
Belhador had taken Legolas on training exercises and hunts many times, and could count the number of times in the past two hundred years that Legolas had ever missed a shot. They stood out in his memory because they were so few, and because Legolas would rebuke himself for weeks: practicing endlessly and questioning his own skill. Belhador sometimes worried about Legolas and knew he was not the only one who did; Berensul had once confided his fear that if Legolas should ever make a serious mistake, he might fling himself from a treetop. The sons and daughters of Thranduil had all been taught that while failures should be avoided, they should be accepted and learned from when they occurred, and then it was necessary to move on. Legolas did not seem to grasp the part about moving on.
Speaking of which, if their father should arrive… “Legolas?” Belhador made his voice nonchalant as if all were perfectly normal. “You had best wake up and dress now. The banquet begins in two hours, and we must show ourselves soon.”
Legolas’s eyes focused immediately from the vacant stare of elven sleep, and he sat up in dismay, “How long have I been asleep?”
Belhador shrugged, “I’m not certain when you returned, but the sun is down.” At his brother’s expression of horror, he laughed and said, “Oh, be easy, my dear brother, everyone is so busy telling and retelling every detail of your triumph that no one noticed you had not yet arrived in person. You’re not yet late. Come, dress yourself and let’s be going.”
Legolas hustled into his formal clothes, (Mirkwood green and brown, threaded with gold in a leaf pattern), and stood in front of the mirror while Belhador helped him make himself presentable, asking nervously, “Did our father ask where I was?”
Belhador opened his mouth, but from behind them a voice said, “There was no need.” It was Thranduil.
Belhador paused from straightening his brother’s tunic and felt Legolas’s shoulder go rigid under his hand. Again, he felt the urge to groan. There was another odd thing about his youngest brother. King Thranduil had treated all his children with affection when they were very young, Legolas most of all. None could deny he had raised them with strong principles, and had been a good parent, in spite of his other shortcomings. Queen Minuial’s untimely death had not harshened Thranduil as his elder children had feared, but the opposite--he had become more protective of his youngest son. Belhador had never even heard the king raise his voice to Legolas. So he could not fathom why, out of all of them, Legolas seemed intimidated by their father. Sometimes even afraid of him.
Thranduil remained in the threshold and said, “If you please, Belhador, I would like a word with Legolas. You may rejoin our guests.”
“Yes, Father,” Belhador said obediently, with a glance at his brother’s reflection in the mirror. Legolas looked as though he expected Thranduil to come down on him like a raging orc, though the king never overreacted in such a fashion--at least not toward Legolas. He knew it would do no good to speak to his brother with Thranduil waiting, so he gave his father a smooth bow and departed the room, praying this ridiculously minor incident would not put a damper upon the entire evening.
Thranduil spoke briskly and casually, as he had planned to bring up the distasteful subject, “I was glad you had the chance to rest before the evening. The banquet will doubtlessly run long , and I had feared you would be tired from this morning. I was just coming to wake you.”
He sensed his son’s intense relief at not being chided for sleeping, and knew he was about to alarm him again, but this conversation could not wait much longer. Narmeril would doubtless want to know what reply Legolas had made before the evening was over. Remembering what Mithrandir had advised, he kept his voice neutral, “My son, before we go out, I must speak with you concerning a matter of some importance.”
Legolas stopped fiddling with his tunic and turned to face his father, giving him his complete attention. Thranduil closed the door behind him and took a deep breath, “You are aware, of course, Legolas, that at this Gathering, you have shown yourself not only ready for full adulthood and battle, but also for marriage.” Legolas blinked--the idea had obviously been an afterthought to this event. Thranduil said blandly, “I have already been approached by the Lady Narmeril about the possibility of a match between you and her daughter, the Lady Merilin.”
If there was one thing that would serve Legolas well in his royal duties as a Prince of Mirkwood, it was his composure. But at this revelation, all composure (or perhaps merely the use of his legs) deserted him. He made no vocal sound, but simply sat down on the edge of his bed with a thud, looking utterly thunderstruck. He did not speak for a moment, simply staring into space, then looked up at his father with wide eyes and blurted, “What?!”
“Lady Narmeril has asked me to speak with you about a marriage to her daughter Merilin,” Thranduil repeated. The king of Mirkwood was amused and rather pleased by the emotions he saw running across his son’s face. They ranged from disbelief to confusion to speculation to dismay and then finally settled upon something akin to utter horror. Thranduil could no longer restrain himself and allowed some mild chuckling to escape, “May I assume from your expression that you are not interested?”
“I…I…”Legolas shook his head and stammered, “I have nothing against the Lady Merilin, Father, and I should not wish to affront her. We are friends, yes, but…”
“You are not ready for marriage?” Thranduil prompted instinctively.
Legolas immediately replied, “I think perhaps I am not, Father, although I am honored by Lady Narmeril’s request.”
Thranduil smiled; Legolas had said exactly what the king had hoped he would say. It was as Thranduil had thought. Legolas was too young to marry. “Well then, that is settled. I shall inform Lady Narmeril of your decline.”
“Ah--” Legolas looked anxious. “Father, when you speak to her, please tell her that I hold Lady Merilin in the highest esteem, and I do not wish her to believe that I consider her daughter unworthy.”
“Of course, my son, I shall tell her this. I am pleased that you did not rush into such a decision. But,” Thranduil had debated mentioning this next fact, but decided Legolas would probably learn the hard way if he did not, “this is unlikely to be the last offer you receive this Gathering.” He crushed a laugh at his son’s expression of renewed horror. “However, I shall discreetly make it known that the idea of marriage in general is not to your liking at this time, rather than suggest you have any particular objection to the ladies who will doubtlessly be asking for your hand.”
Legolas nodded, “Thank you, Father.”
“Well, then. Shall we?” As Legolas followed his father out the door, Thranduil smiled to himself. It was a relief that the matter had been resolved so quickly, and indeed, it was as the king had hoped; Legolas was glad to have had the decision made for him.
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.