5. Girls, Girls, Girls!
From another part of the room, Berensul had to stifle a laugh and nudged Belhador when he saw Legolas look at Merilin. “My dear brother, I suspect our father has broached the subject of marriage. Look how they blush.”
Indeed, Legolas and Merilin appeared to have assessed each other and themselves in a different light, and it was difficult to say which of the two looked the most alarmed. Legolas appeared quite disturbed, and Merilin had turned positively green. Now they were facing anywhere but each other, and each was moving to add distance between them. A chuckle from nearby let the princes know that two of the other competitors, Faron of Imladris and Tathar of Mirkwood, had seen the nonverbal exchange. “They seem a love meant to be, do they not?” snickered Tathar.
“Contain your jests in front of them, my friend,” Belhador cautioned. “I fear they both have been frightened out of their wits by this strange new foe.”
“The most deathly dangerous foe of all,” agreed Berensul, smiling as his wife, the Crown Princess Eirien, moved to join them.
Belhador and the archers bowed to the crown prince’s lady, and she smiled at them before commenting, “So the offer is made then. I assume the king goes now to tell the Lady Narmeril that Legolas has refused?”
“That would seem likely,” Belhador agreed. “It may not be necessary to tell him of Lady Merilin’s feelings at all. I suspect Legolas was less than enthusiastic. See, he goes now to speak to Lady Narmeril. They have refused.”
The friends of Legolas and Merilin watched, struggling to stifle their giggles, at the pantomime that played out between King Thranduil and Lady Narmeril. Lady Merilin’s mother had been greatly successful at arranging marriages for Merilin’s three elder sisters, and this was the first time she had been refused. With a socially correct smile and bow following the exchange with the elven king, Narmeril turned on her heel and walked from the hall, leaving an aroma of affronted ego in her wake. King Thranduil looked as though he were trying to contain his amusement. He turned to speak to Mithrandir again, apparently recounting the discussion of the aborted match. Mithrandir did not appear quite so amused.
“Even so, I fear this will not be the last such horror our dear brother will face this Gathering,” Princess Limloeth joined the group. “Already there is talk that Lady Hísimë and Lord Ezeloron wish to speak to our father about their daughters and Legolas. Poor boy. I hope he finds time to enjoy himself.”
Eirien had not been listening just then. She could hear Queen Elenath of Lindon speaking to her daughter, Princess Lalven, just behind them. “Prince Legolas has refused Lady Merilin, my daughter. Our opportunity remains.”
“But Mother, he did not object to Merilin specifically, but to marriage itself. How am I to sway him?” Lalven asked, sounding dismayed.
“If he should develop a liking for a particular lady, my dear, perhaps the thought of marriage itself will be more to his liking. Therefore, I suggest you endeavor to make yourself as likeable to him as possible.”
Eirien forced herself to stop eavesdropping and turned back to her companions with a barely-suppressed smile. *Poor Legolas. Merilin was only the beginning.*
As his siblings and friends looked on, Legolas continued to field congratulations and admirations from elves by the dozens. Many of them were maidens. Belhador discreetly nudged Tathar, Legolas’s friend and fellow archer. “Should we rescue him, do you think? He begins to look uncomfortable.”
“Let him be,” Berensul replied firmly. “Legolas is uncomfortable any time that he becomes the center of attention. He is a prince of Mirkwood. He shall have to learn to face his people sometime. He will be fine.”
Tathar pulled his mouth to one side, “As you wish, my lord.”
On the other side of the room, it was all Legolas could do to make socially correct and somewhat graceful responses to his many admirers. He had never faced such a large group of people all trying to speak to him before. It was overwhelming.
“It was such an impressive performance, my lord.” “You are the finest archer Mirkwood has ever had, my lord.” “The finest in Middle Earth!” “You do us all such an honor, my lord!” “We are so proud, my lord, so proud!” “Very well done, my lord!”
As Legolas feared he was beginning to blush, King Thranduil at last came to his rescue. “Forgive me, Ladies, Prince Legolas has other well-wishers to meet.” Feeling intensely relieved, Legolas followed his father to join Mithrandir and Lord Elrond.
Legolas was startled when both the wizard and the Lord of Rivendell bowed to him. “My congratulations, Prince Legolas,” Lord Elrond declared. “I have never seen a finer performance.”
“Nor I, my lord,” Mithrandir agreed, smiling at him. “Mirkwood has every cause for pride today.”
“My thanks,” Legolas said to them both. “On behalf of my comrades as well. I believe the other candidates of Mirkwood deserve these praises as much as I. Never has our delegation placed so highly.”
“Quite true, my lord,” the wizard agreed. “All four of Mirkwood’s delegates in the top placings. Quite an honor indeed. We should not forget to extend our praises to Langcyll, your master.”
Legolas felt himself relaxing. Mithrandir, for some strange reason, was very easy to speak to. He felt he did not have to consciously be on his guard or watch his words. “I should not wish to overlook Langcyll. This victory is as much his as it is ours and Mirkwood’s.”
“Well said, young Legolas,” Elrond remarked. Lord Elrond, on the other hand, was so awe-inspiring that Legolas felt like an awkward child whenever he spoke to him.
At that moment, Queen Elenath of Lindon joined the group. “Well done, Prince Legolas. I am pleased to see you basking in the glory of today’s triumph.”
Mithrandir chuckled, “Indeed, you are mistaken, my lady. Prince Legolas has been the soul of modesty in spite of his grand feats.”
“I am very pleased to hear it. Ah, Lalven, there you are,” the elven queen gestured imperiously for Princess Lalven to join the group. “You have not yet congratulated the prince.” For an elf, Elenath was not very subtle. Few missed the unspoken message from the queen to her daughter. Legolas felt heat rushing to his face again and though he smiled amiably, he deeply desired to groan.
Princess Lalven of Lindon had her attributes, it could not be denied. She was an attractive elf, with thick, heavy black hair that flowed all about her, and deep blue eyes set in her pale, delicately-boned face. She was sometimes compared in looks to the Lady Arwen. She came from one of the highest families of western elves, and had also competed in the morning’s Trial, though she had not placed very high.
On the other hand, especially compared to Arwen, Lalven’s features seemed rather vacant, lacking any sort of depth or understanding behind her eyes, and when one actually had a conversation with her…how to put it politely…she was rather insipid. “My congratulations, my lord,” Lalven said, batting her eyes.
Perhaps it was merely hunger, but Legolas felt a small twinge of nausea. Nevertheless, he forced himself to smile warmly and reply graciously, “My thanks, my lady.” He did not see Mithrandir discreetly cover his mouth with one hand.
Across the room, Faron of Imladris had joined Tathar, Candrochon, and the royal children of Mirkwood in conversation when he saw what transpired between Legolas, Queen Elenath, and Princess Lalven. “Ai!” he groaned in a half-whisper, flicking his head in their direction.
Tathar turned to look, then quickly had to turn back to hide his laughter. “There’s a pearl you owe me, Faron.”
Faron shook his head in amused dismay, “I was certain that it would be Eregolf!”
“I would not wish Lalven on anyone,” Princess Limloeth remarked, trying in vain not to giggle. “I suspect you would have been right, Faron, were it not for outcome of the Trial. I fear my brother’s rather spectacular victory has altered a great many plans. Belhador remains unmarried, but today’s events have made Legolas the prime choice. Poor thing. First Merilin, now Lalven.”
Berensul sighed heavily, “On second thought, perhaps we should rescue him. Another minute and Queen Elenath will broach the idea of making Lalven his dinner partner, and I would not see my brother saddled with that tedious creature all evening. He deserves to enjoy himself.”
“Than you had best hurry,” Belhador urged him.
Berensul swiftly made his way through the crowd and as his friends looked on, drew Legolas away from from the hovering queen and princess. Queen Elenath was visibly searching for a means of detaining him, but fortunately for Legolas, the queen was as unimaginative as her daughter. At his eldest brother’s side, the prince made his escape with clear relief.
“Thank the Valar,” Belhador began, but Limloeth caught his arm and snickered.
“Do not be so hasty, brother. It is not yet over. See? They have escaped one only to be set upon by another,” Limloeth was correct. Another noble elf, this one of Lorien, was bearing down on Legolas and Berensul with his daughter in tow, as the friends struggled to stifle their laughter.
Eirien asked hastily, “Did Legolas mention any preference of whom he would like to sit the banquet with?”
Candrochon frowned, “I do not believe so, Lady. Merilin would likely have been his partner, but under these new circumstances, they have doubtlessly changed their minds.”
“Then perhaps, Limloeth, if you’re not otherwise engaged…”
“My dear sister, you are brilliant. I at least can carry on an intelligent conversation,” Limloeth remarked, with some disdain for the noble maiden now offering her congratulations (among other things) to Legolas.
“Go swiftly then, Lady, before he is ensnared,” hissed Candrochon frantically. “The banquet will begin soon, and I see no less than three other ladies lurking about waiting for their turn.”
Limloeth hurried to join her brothers, and Belhador shook his head helplessly. “Is anyone keeping a tally?”
Snickering, Tathar discreetly counted on his fingers, “Lady Merilin, Princess Lalven, now Lady Emlin. And I see Lady Hatholiel, Lady Lendael, and Lady Himiel searching for the proper opening.”
Eirien looked astonished. “Whatever possesses these ladies or their parents to set their caps upon a prince they’ve yet to be introduced to?”
“Indeed, I know not, my lady, but we have all born it,” Belhador replied, grimacing. “I knew none of the ladies who asked for my hand at my second coming of age.” As they watched, Berensul and Legolas managed to detach themselves from Lord Eretoss and his daughter Lady Emlin, only to have Lady Lendael move in for her turn.
“Ai, this shall be unpleasant,” murmured Candrochon.
Fortunately, just as Legolas appeared to be contemplating leaping from the balcony, Limloeth reached them at last, smoothly linking her arm with her younger brother’s. Another singularly amusing pantomime followed of Lady Lendael’s attempts to persuade Legolas to sit with her at the banquet (without asking him directly.) Alas, the attempt failed, and Limloeth briskly escorted Legolas and Berensul back to the rest of the group.
“Well met, my lord!” Tathar said brightly. Legolas shot him a look that would freeze water in the Cracks of Doom.
From the doorway to the banquet hall, a muted chime sounded. Limloeth, her hand still on her brother‘s arm, grinned broadly, “Ah, time to go in.”
Gandalf the Grey was torn between laughter and outrage on Legolas’s behalf as he saw the young prince being shamelessly chased by noble elves and their daughters. Even as he escorted his elder sister Limloeth into the banquet hall, King Thranduil’s youngest son was forced to fend off overtures by noble elven maidens.
“Poor lad,” a voice remarked beside him.
Gandalf turned to see Lord Elrond also watching the prince’s struggle to escape the ladies. The wizard smiled. “I fear this was an inevitable consequence of such a great victory. As the most celebrated archer in Middle Earth, Legolas has also become the most sought-after husband.”
Elrond nodded, wincing slightly as a particularly bubbly maiden bounced up to Legolas and complained melodramatically that she had no partner for dinner. “Fortunately, he must only endure this for two more days. By the end of the Gathering, most of these ladies will be forced to return to their own realms. The prince and his family seem to have the situation in hand. The matter of Lady Merilin was brought to a swift close.”
*But not by Legolas, perhaps,* the thought came unbidden into Gandalf’s mind and he glanced at the front of the main table as they entered the hall. King Thranduil was at the head of the table, speaking to Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn. The king beckoned for Legolas and Limloeth to take the second seats on his left, across from Celeborn and Galadriel, and they escaped Legolas’s pursuers.
The banquet of the Gathering of the Realms was a masterpiece: the food superb, the music lovely, and many interesting and important conversations took place. Legolas appeared both delighted and mortified by the songs sung about him. Fortunately, the talk of matches was absent--discussing marriages in this setting like some sort of diplomatic contract would be in poor taste, for which Gandalf was very thankful.
Much praise was given to Prince Legolas that evening: songs were sung, toasts made, and every elf who had witnessed the competition seemed to have a tale of some remarkable feat they had seen Legolas perform during the event. Langcyll, the pragmatic warrior captain and head novice master of Mirkwood, surprised the assembly by rising to declare that Legolas had been the finest novice he had ever trained, and calling upon all novice warriors to emulate his dedication and, more important, his caution. None in the room were more stunned than Legolas (except perhaps Langcyll himself, for singling out a warrior for such praise was very unlike him.)
To any other, Thranduil’s expression throughout all this was very much controlled, that of a king pleased by a warrior’s performance--with only a hint of fatherly pride. But Gandalf saw through it. From the Maia’s gaze, there was no hiding the possessiveness of Thranduil’s behavior toward his youngest son. The wizard could see a complicated and painful array of emotions, including pride, apprehension, concern, and--in what could prove a blessing and curse to all concerned--a desperate, all-encompassing love.
*This elven king possesses many vices, but few weaknesses,* Gandalf thought. *Yet there sits the deepest of them all. A child is always a weakness to the parent, but seldom to such a degree as this. He has come of age, yet still his father guards him.*
In the climax of the banquet, the Lady Galadriel placed a gold medal around Legolas’s neck, etched with the emblems of all the Elven realms, of the archers, and the year, to commemorate his victory. The Mirkwood elves were overjoyed, giving their prince a thunderous ovation.
Applauding with the rest, Gandalf considered the way that the king had handled the matter of his son’s marriage, and the fashion that he seemed to handle all of Legolas’s affairs. *For now at least, young Legolas is content, but that will soon change as his comrades take up their newfound rights and responsibilities. He shall desire to make his own decisions and find his own way in life. What will Thranduil do then?*
It was a heavy question. For an elven king as powerful as Thranduil to possess such a vulnerability had many ramifications. Especially when it was only a matter of time before this weakness was driven into the open by his son’s desire for freedom. It seemed more and more certain that the destiny of Legolas of Mirkwood would have a great impact on the course of the future: of his kindred, his realm, and perhaps all Middle Earth.
As his victory in the Gathering Trial had demonstrated, the senses of Legolas were particularly keen, even by elven standards. In the two days following the Trial, he had many occasions to be thankful for them.
For when a noble maiden was in the vicinity, the few short seconds between the time that his senses detected her and hers would detect him were all he needed to take cover. Although Legolas had always been particularly good at jumping straight into trees without making a sound, Langcyll would be pleased by how much practice the champion of Mirkwood was getting.
Midmorning, the day after the banquet, found Legolas perched in a tree, motionless and tense as if a pack of orcs were passing below. He had hoped to escape the attentions of the ladies by wandering off into the woods (on one of the rare occasions during the Gathering when his presence was not absolutely required) but alas, they followed him everywhere. Even now, he watched from his hiding place as Princess Lalven attempted to determine where he had gone. Lalven was a fair to decent tracker, but Legolas doubted she would be able to find him. A fact for which he was very well pleased.
Lalven wandered away and Legolas climbed down, feeling exasperated. It was as he had feared; trying to find any time to himself during the next two days would be an exercise in futility. He suspected that in the ten minutes since he had left the palace, half the unmarried elven maidens at the Gathering had elected to take a stroll. Yet on the other hand, perhaps he could retreat back into the palace and leave them to explore the woods in search of him. With that in mind, he jumped back up and stealthily made his way over the heads of the searching ladies without once being seen.
He climbed up a tree close to the palace and gained the balcony of his chambers via another sturdy limb. Walking through the open balcony doors, he came upon someone in his room and all but jumped out of his skin. It was Tathar. He blinked at his friend’s reaction and Legolas said absently, “Oh, it’s you.”
Tathar grinned, and Legolas felt still more aggrieved. As if the constant attentions of every eligible elf maid from here to the Grey Havens were not enough, the amusement of his friends at his expense only served as salt in the wound. “What do you want?” he demanded brusquely, and regretted it at once. Tathar looked hurt, and Legolas sighed. “Forgive me. I was startled.”
Tathar at least seemed repentant, and said, “Since every unmarried maiden in Mirkwood is currently scouring the forest, I suspected I would find you within the palace.” He smiled more sympathetically, “The Council of the Realms is to take place at sunset tonight. Your presence will be expected, my lord.”
Legolas sat down heavily on the edge of his bed, too frustrated to bother with royal appearances in the company of his closest friend. “For pity’s sake, do not call me that. I prefer to think that at least my comrades in arms know my own name. The ladies ‘lord’ me enough as it is.”
Tathar asked thoughtfully, “Have you spoken to Merilin since…last night?”
“No,” Legolas sighed and rubbed his brows. “She seems the only one with the good sense not to desire a marriage to me. Would that she had been spared the embarrassment. At least until the Gathering has ended, I will not give rise to gossip by speaking to her.”
“You did not consider her unworthy--” Tathar began, looking shocked.
Legolas swiftly shook his head, “On the contrary, my friend. Were I inclined to marry, I might have given Merilin’s--or rather, Lady Narmeril’s suggestion serious thought. But I am not, and she does not desire me.” He laughed wryly, “When the Gathering is over, I will make certain that she knows I hold her in the highest esteem. But at the moment, she flees in the opposite direction when she sees me--on those occasions when I do not have the opportunity to escape first.”
Tathar laughed again, “How terribly traumatic.” At Legolas’s glare, he raised his hands defensively, “Peace, my friend, you said yourself you did not wish me to change my behavior towards you. Therefore I must remember to tease you regularly.”
Legolas was at last able to grin. “Tell me, my friend, had you any offers of betrothal?” At Tathar’s blush, he sprang to his feet. “What is this? You would permit me to go through this trial alone? Out with it; who asked for you?”
Tathar wrinkled his nose, and Legolas grinned harder, folding his arms expectantly. “Gaeloth, Mathorion’s daughter.”
In a most undignified fashion, Legolas was forced to clap both hands over his mouth to prevent a howl of laughter. Tathar looked sheepish as Legolas bent over, shaking with silent hysterics. When at last he regained some degree of control, he wiped tears from his eyes and hissed, “That…that…troll of an elf maid?” Tathar began to laugh as well and nodded. “Pray tell, who masterminded that brilliant plan? Gaeloth despises everyone, including her own kindred. I cannot imagine her asking for the hand of anyone save an orc!”
“I suspect it was Mathorion’s idea. He would do better to marry her to a dwarf, if any would have her. But do not crow over me quite so loud, my lord; he asked Candrochon first.” At that revelation, Legolas laughed harder still, but his mirth was swiftly ended by a knock upon the door.
“My lord? Are you at home?”
Legolas froze, and Tathar turned in alarm toward the door. In horror, Legolas clapped his hands over the sides of his head and mouthed frantically: (Lalven!)
Tathar nodded, then mouthed back. (What now?)
(I’m not at home!) Legolas mouthed urgently, vigorously shaking his head, but their earlier merriment had given them away.
“I hear nothing, Mother,” they heard Lalven say.
“There were sounds from within; he must be here,” Queen Elenath’s voice replied. Legolas leaned against the wall and squeezed his eyes shut as though facing an imminent doom. As the queen of Lindon began rapping on the door, he began mouthing a prayer. “Prince Legolas? I am certain I heard voices!”
Tathar leaned over and shook Legolas by the shoulder, gesturing at the balcony window. Hastily, they slipped out and closed it noiselessly behind them. They were breathing a sigh of relief when a feminine wail from a nearby tree made them both jump, “Oh, Prince Legolas, I am stuck and the branch is breaking!”
Having no choice but to go to Lady Emlin’s aid, Legolas briefly considered jumping from the treetop himself. Or perhaps helping the branch to break.
Belhador was about to depart his chamber for the Council of the Realms when he heard someone sprinting down the hallway. Alarmed, he reached for the knife hanging from his belt when he realized it was Legolas; the frantic strides were so unlike his placid youngest brother that Belhador had not recognized him. Coming around the corner, Legolas all but plowed into Belhador. Rocking back on his heels, Belhador’s brother stammered, “Forgive me, I--” he looked frantically over his shoulder.
Belhador chuckled, “Who is it this time?”
“Lady Lendael!” Legolas whispered, looking anguished. Belhador heard the sound of two elf ladies coming into the hall that housed the royal chambers and sighed--Lendael must have her mother with her. Hastily, he motioned Legolas into his own room and closed the door behind them. “Thank you,” Legolas sighed softly, sinking into a chair with his face in his hands.
From outside, they heard Lady Faelwest musing, “Now wherever could he have gone?”
Quashing an urge to laugh, Belhador gestured silently for Legolas to remain where he was, and walked casually into the corridor. “Ladies, what may I do for you?”
“Ah, Prince Belhador, I…we were seeking your brother Prince Legolas. Would you happen to know where he might have gone?” Lady Faelwest asked coyly, her hand on her daughter Lendael’s shoulder.
Smoothly, Belhador shook his head. “I know not, Lady. The Council of the Realms begins in an hour; my brother may have gone already. If so, I fear you shall be forced to wait until it is over to speak with him.”
With a thin smile that did little to hide her displeasure, the disappointed noble departed. Belhador returned to his room and could no longer contain himself--Legolas looked so forlorn. When he began to laugh, Legolas moaned, “I suppose I must be pleased to see at least someone amused.”
Struggling to bring his laughter under control, Belhador replied, “Oh, calm yourself, Brother. It will not last much longer. Berensul is Crown Prince, and survived his second coming of age and four Gatherings after before taking a bride. He had easily as many offers as you.” *Almost as many,* he mentally corrected himself, but there was no need to inform Legolas of the exact tally. His brother was traumatized enough. “But now, we must go to the Council. And fear not; none will dare broach the subject of marriage in such a setting. Once there, you shall be safe.”
“At least until the Council is over,” Legolas sighed, but rose.
But reaching the hall where the Council would meet soon proved easier said than done. No sooner had they left the royal chambers than Belhador and Legolas were surrounded by giggling, fluttering young maidens, all of whom practically ignored Belhador with their eyes upon the greater prize.
“We missed you at the riverside, this morning, my lord!” one said with a pout.
“The first novices raced their horses, but none have as fine a seat as you upon your noble mount!” another cooed.
“Do you go now to the Council of the Realms? How exciting!” one squealed.
“I do hope we shall see you at dinner this evening, my lord!” another maiden gushed.
Still another especially forward maiden yanked the collar of her gown to one side, exposing her bare shoulder, and wailed, “Look, my lord, I’ve been stung!”
“Come, Legolas, we shall be late,” Belhador declared loudly, and although they permitted them to pass, the ladies did not desist. They trailed behind the princes in a giggling entourage.
“Prince Belhador, why is your brother so cold?”
“What do you suppose the Lords will discuss tonight?”
“The first departures are tomorrow morning! What SHALL they do without us?”
The princes walked as swiftly as they could, and Belhador suspected Legolas would have broken into a run were it not for Belhador’s hand upon his arm. At last, they entered the hall where the Council was to begin, and closed the doors upon the chattering she-elves with audible sighs of relief. Turning to the room, they found most of the participants had already assembled; the maidens had so impeded their progress. Lord Elrond was visibly struggling to suppress his amusement. “Well met, Prince Belhador, Prince Legolas. I trust your…journey was uneventful?”
Belhador was also forced to stifle a laugh, “Not at all, my lord.” Legolas looked as though he desired to thud his head against the wall.
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.