1. Where the Wild Thyme Blows
When my young son returned from the forest with his hair chopped like a harvested field, reported he had angered all the womenfolk, and proved it, I knew my duty. Remembering the counsel of my late father Oropher at such times, I advised Legolas to keep his opinions on the womenfolk’s tempers to himself and told him we were going night-fishing.
He looked up and gave me his usual half-smile of agreement. Twelve minutes later we were out the door, taking a honey cake from the kitchens and a jug of wine.
“Our purposes are twofold,” I explained as we headed on foot for a stream that fed the Forest River. “To get you and your, ah, new haircut away from your mother’s eyes for awhile, and to prepare her a peace offering.” I studied his head. Apart from one thick braid hanging from his crown, he had a strip of hair down the middle of his head and that was all.
“Your feathers look like that rock kestrel that flies toward the Lonely Mountain,” I said aloud. “The one with the crest. It cries ‘Mo! Mo!”
“Yes, the Mo Hawk,” said Legolas. “What of the peace offering? Are you going to make her favorite?”
“Baked fish with summer herbs,” I replied. So we went to the stream. I loved those banks where the wild thyme blows, entangled with fragrant mint and watercress. I named the stream Enchanted, for when we were first wedded Elsila and I made love there on Midsummer eves, and never has any Elf-man known a sweeter joy.
We came to that place then. The night’s dark beauty caught us for a moment and we looked upward through the trees to the skies. Ithil was crescent, waxing, and rising in the east. This night he bowed his head before the glory of the stars, as we did, and with shared thoughts my son and I gave praise to Lady Elbereth. Fireflies danced in the dusky glen, reminding us that Arda is no less lovely than the works of Varda. I saw the Sickle of the Valar high in the heavens and it stirred familiar feelings in my feä: wonder, and a desire to wield that sword myself in the battle at the End of Days. But I turned from warlike thoughts and proceeded with the peace offering.
“We need three or four river trout,” I said. “Make a basket to hold them, will you, while I pick those summer globes. See, a few are red already.” Elsila loved the crispy flesh of summer globes, whether green or ripened into red, and she particularly liked them sliced and cooked in fragrant grape-seed oil with fish. I saw a few onion-tops and pulled those as well. Meanwhile Legolas had already woven a basket from twigs and branches.
“Let’s go fishing!” he said.
With a shout we threw aside our bows, quivers, and knives. We pulled off our boots and clothes and flung our bare selves into the stream, splashing and scaring the fish in all directions. It was glorious!
After a while and a water fight or two we made ourselves be sober and set about tickling some fish into our hands. All one needs is a jot of skill and a blink of time, so I thought we would finish well before daybreak and return before Elsila thought to miss us.
And so we would have, but for a small mishap that led – as such things will - to larger complications.
The trout was almost in my still, submerged hands. It would join the other three in Legolas’s basket. We would collect the herbs and legumes, have a sip of wine, and be on our way.
Then I heard a sound, a hiss. Legolas whispered, “Father! Do not move! Slôki!”
Now the white water snake is as rare as dragons and more poison than an Orc arrow. I froze, for I could see from the corner of my eye that the snake had raised up on its tail. Its tongue poked out of its mouth as if savoring my blood. If it struck me, with not even a boot for protection, my hröa would be forfeit within the hour and not Elrond himself could save me. In an instant I saw the beautiful summer night melt away into the somber shadows of the Halls of Mandos, and when ever again would I walk in the woods with my wife and children?
But Legolas even then was resourceful beyond his years. I saw him extend his fingers and stiffen his hand. He bent his knees ever so slowly and then – he struck like a snake himself! It was gone from the stream, slung hard against a tree. I saw Legolas move his lips. He was thanking the dead snake for its participation in the great circle of life. Huntress had taught him well.
I felt weak in the knees and let myself fall back toward the water. But a stone shifted under my foot and I whirled off-balance, landing full face down. I was able to avoid striking my head against a rock but with my face below the surface, I found myself trying to breathe water.
Enough fishing. Choking and gasping, I climbed out of the stream and uttered my first words since the whispered warning of my son.
“Thank – hic-- you – hic,” I said.”
“Father! What is wrong?” he cried, for being a young Elf he had never encountered anyone with a case of the hiccups.
“Hic – noth... - hic, hic,” I explained soothingly.
“What is it!”
“I’ve got – hic!”
“What have you got? A head injury? Poison? Oh, something is in your throat! Here, I will help you!”
With that unbelievable speed of his, he pushed me over toward a boulder, bounded up behind me, grabbed me around the middle with both arms, and heaved upward and back, expelling every last breath of air in my body. It was like being kicked in the chest by a donkey.
I sank to my knees. “Hic!” I managed. It was a piteous sound.
Then I had an idea. “Drink!” While Legolas dashed away again, I pulled on my clothes. A king of Elves may be unclothed and suffer no loss of his being, but a naked, hiccupping king is another basket of fish entirely.
Then Legolas brought me a drink. Of wine. From the jug.
Oh, very well, I thought. Under the circumstances ... and I tilted the jug and drank without stopping while one might count to twelve.
“Your hiccups are gone, Father.”
“Yes, dear, sweet son, and thank you. You may have saved my life.”
“Oh, it was not so serious.”
“Yes,” I insisted, filled with love and admiration for this paragon of a son, this prodigy of a child. “I regret that I compared your new haircut to the crest of a bird.”
“Why, I do not mind,” he said with astonishment, drinking some wine himself.
“No, it was unkind. I must make repairs.” I was finding ideas difficult to come by for some reason. Then my eyes rested upon my hunting knife. I knew what to do.
“Cut my hair,” I told him. So he did.
“Good morning, Starshine! Your menfolk have returned, bearing gifts.”
Elsila regarded our matching haircuts in silence. She accepted the basket and looked inside. It contained the summer globe pods, green and red, and the fish, scaled, cleaned, and cut up for cooking. Legolas had insisted on doing this work himself.
Next Elsila took the wine jug which we had rinsed and filled with wild thyme, watercress, tart mint, and daisies. “Why, my favorites,” she said.
“I will cook breakfast for you,” I said, beaming.
“Do not stir. You should not handle fire just yet. ...Legolas, you must be hungry. Go see Bessain for a honey cake.”
“I am not hungry, Mother.”
Legolas bowed and departed.
“Now, Starshine,” I began. To my dismay, Elsila sank into a chair and put her hands over her face. She doubled over, putting her face against her knees. Her shoulders shook. I saw her wipe water from her eyes.
I had another thought. I was not proud of it. “Now, Starshine. Do not be distressed. Legolas made me do it, so as not to feel lonely.”
“A likely story, Milord Jester. Do not be distressed yourself. See, I am laughing.” And indeed she was. The hall pealed with it, the most joyous sound in the world.
“When you tire of being king, you may spend another age as the groom of Elven heads,” she told me, chuckling.
“Yes, I have many skills.”
“I have always wanted to know your recipe for baked fish with herbs,” she said, smiling.
“It is a secret. Come closer and I will whisper it.”
Elsila came behind me and put her arms around my neck. “You smell of mint and wild thyme,” she said, nuzzling my cheek.
I closed my eyes. All was well in the House of Thranduil, and tonight would be Midsummer’s Eve.
You will need thick pieces of fish and savory summer herbs and legumes. Start a fire at the kitchen hearth and let it burn to embers. When it is hot enough to cook with, put a little grape-seed oil in a fired-clay baking dish. Cook slices of red and green summer globes in the oil, along with some onion tops, enough to flavor the oil. Then remove the legumes. Roll the fish pieces in the oil. Put them in the bottom of the dish, cover it with the top part, and put in the embers to bake for half an hour.
Arrange the cooked fish pieces on a dish the color of sunlight. Sprinkle with chopped tart mint, and put wild thyme sprigs for decoration and scent. Put the cooked summer globe pieces around the fish. Make a watercress salad also. Serve with white grape wine, and if dining with your lady love, put daisies in a vase and tell her she is more beautiful than flowers.
1. “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.” – W. Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Act II, Scene 1. Words spoken by Oberon, King of the Fairies.
2. Peace offering. – In the early days of New Orleans, when a husband stayed out all night he brought his wife an oyster loaf sandwich (a poor boy) as a médiatrice, or peacemaker. Peter S. Feibleman, “American Cooking: Creole and Acadian,” page 65.
3. No one understands the physiological basis for hiccups, but one theory is that the motion of the throat keeps fluid from the lungs. The hiccup motion is similar to that of suckling infants. See the paragraphs on suckling and hiccups at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2730251.stm
4. "Summer globes" are much like bell peppers in flavor and color..
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