“Real food at last!” he said, rubbing his calloused hands together in anticipation. “Don’t take this the wrong way, my friend, but lembas gets a little tiring, especially when it’s so often repeated.”
Aragorn laughed, and Legolas responded with a smile. “I should be offended, I suppose,” he admitted, “but it’s true; meat and bread and wine will taste very good tonight.” He stretched lightly, holding his arms over his head and running his hands through his long pale hair. “To tell the truth, though, it was a greater relief to bathe; my body has not felt water on it since we left the Anduin a week ago.”
“You spend too much time bathing,” scoffed Gimli. “What do you care how you smell? You’ve no elf-maids to impress this far south.”
“It’s not so much the smell as the feel,” explained Legolas, shifting his shoulders under his clean tunic. “The grit and the sweat build up in the corners and make moving a chore, instead of the joy it should be.”
Gimli smiled up at his friend. “Well, I suppose were I graceful as you, I would care more about the joy in my movements, but truth be known Dwarves are little concerned with such things. What about you, Aragorn? Is it the smell or the feel?”
“Smell, definitely,” Legolas answered for him, and laughed at Aragorn’s mock-indignant glare.
“I hate to admit it, but Legolas is right,” said Aragorn good-naturedly. “I never detected much of a smell growing up amongst Elves; I suppose you really don’t stink much, Legolas, even when you’re dirty. That’s why I notice it so much in myself.”
“So long as your hands and face are clean, what does it matter?” asked Gandalf. “By the Valar, you three chatter as much as Hobbits! Leave this discussion for the bedrooms, where it belongs.” He stopped himself abruptly, wishing he hadn’t spoken, for at that moment Éowyn, dressed in white and girt with silver, appeared at the passageway entrance before them. She smiled, so he assumed she hadn’t heard, or at least hadn’t put the wrong interpretation on what she’d overheard; Gandalf had no desire to get on Théoden’s wrong side. There was far too much at stake.
“Hail, Grey Pilgrim!” she said in her light, slightly husky voice; her dark eyes roved over the four companions, lingering perhaps a little longer upon Aragorn, before speaking. “The meal is prepared; the hatches are open, and we await only our guests before falling to. Please come with me; you shall sit at the high table on the dais tonight.”
Obediently they followed, though Gimli noticed with amusement Aragorn was careful to let Legolas follow behind Éowyn first; obviously his friend had noticed her special attention to him and didn’t desire any further conversation or contact than absolutely necessary. It was really unfair, thought Gimli; men had it so easy, with so many females to choose from. Dwarf females weren’t exactly thick upon the ground in any part of Middle Earth, and indeed it had been many long years since Gimli had laid eyes upon a woman of his own kind. He supposed, if one were willing, he could prevail upon a daughter of men in a pinch, though the height issue would be a little difficult to overcome; Elves had it easier, being both tall and fair of face; either race would do for them, though Gimli knew Legolas had no especial interest in the daughters of men, being well satisfied with his own kind.
Indeed, though, had Legolas a mind, Gimli could see a number of women, both young and old, paying him enough attention that his nights would have been filled completely with carnal release; true to his nature, however, Legolas sat scarcely noticing the looks he attracted. And as the dinner progressed, Gimli amused himself with watching the women watch his two companions; while Gandalf, Éomer and Théoden discussed the fortifications of Helm’s Deep and the emptying of Edoras, Legolas and Aragorn were fielding questions of their own from various ladies and maids who hovered around the High Table, ostensibly greeting the guests. Aragorn, tall and rugged and kingly, had also made a great impression upon Éowyn, and that seemed at least partially sufficient to keep the predators at bay; Legolas, however, seemed almost to glimmer compared to the men surrounding him, and the young maidens all appeared to admire him greatly. The Elf conversed calmly and politely with them all, attending them with interest and, Gimli could see, causing many a heart to flutter. Even Éowyn, though certainly attracted to Aragorn, was casting furtive looks at Legolas during the meal, and upon her face was a tense and expectant expression.
After the meats were removed and the subtleties brought out, Gimli shooed the seraglio away from his friend, saying he had private matters to discuss with the Elf; when at last they were seated side by side, Legolas took a deep breath and smiled gratefully at the Dwarf. “Thank you, my friend!” he said. “I am sure they do not mean me ill, but their constant simpering was starting to get on my nerves.”
“You looked a bit frazzled,” agreed Gandalf on Legolas’ other side, smiling. “But really, Legolas, if you don’t want such attention from every female you pass, you’ll have to try your hand at being a little less attractive.”
“It’s not every female I object to,” protested Legolas, one hand going automatically to his carefully braided hair. “It’s only the mortal ones.”
At Gandalf’s raised eyebrow, Gimli chuckled and said, “You ought to have seen him in Lórien, Gandalf; he was gone every night. I am sure he had a different – “
“Shush!” hissed Legolas, looking warily past Gimli to Éowyn, who appeared to have heard this last comment. He colored slightly, the tips of his pointed ears turning pink. Lowering his voice he said, “You needn’t advertise my habits here! Men have different standards than we Elves do. I wouldn’t want them thinking ill of us.”
“True,” said Gandalf, unable to hide his smile. “Don’t embarrass Legolas in front of all these ladies, Gimli; what he does in private should be kept in private.” At that moment a beautiful subtlety of white and golden cake shaped like a warrior’s helm was set before them, and they began to eat. It was delicious, flavored with honey and decorated with various candied fruits and cream, and the four companions complimented Théoden on the skill of his cooks. Théoden thanked them, pleased the subtlety had met with his guests’ approval, and for a time he and Aragorn discussed herbs and spices in cooking.
Gimli and Gandalf, having already eaten their fill of meat and cheese, ate but one small piece of subtlety apiece, but Legolas loved sweets and indulged himself in one more slice. He chatted happily to Gandalf and Gimli while he ate, washing the cake down with a glass of yellow wine, and Gimli leaned back in his chair, full, warm, clean, and content. Thus he sat up rather abruptly when Legolas suddenly changed color, eyes wide and dilated, pushing the subtlety back away from him and looking at Gandalf.
“Mithrandir!” he whispered, as though his throat hurt.
Gandalf looked at him in surprise. “What is it, Legolas?” he asked.
Legolas opened his mouth without speaking for a moment; Gimli saw he was very white, though his lips and ears were unusually red. His hands were braced on the edge of the table and he was trembling. At last he said in a choked voice, “Mithrandir – there are oak leaves in the subtlety!”
Gandalf started, his eyebrows bristling in surprise. “Are you sure of this?” he demanded intently, gripping Legolas’ slim wrist in his hand.
Legolas nodded, biting his lips and staring with frightened eyes at the wizard.
“Go, then!” hissed Gandalf, pushing him away from the table. “Go outside, or up to your room! Get rid of it all as quick as you can!”
Legolas did not have to be told twice. Faster than Gimli could mark him he had dashed out of the hall, only a wisp of hair and his falling serviette floating behind him in his flight. Everyone stared after him, and Éowyn rose, looking alarmed.
“What happened?” she asked, her hands dropping her serviette on her plate, preparing to go after him.
“Is he ill?” asked Théoden, surprised. “I did not think the Fair Folk succumbed to sickness as we do.”
“It is nothing,” said Gandalf loudly, for the benefit of the entire hall. “He is a Wood-Elf, and they are strange folk, as you no doubt have heard. Perhaps something in the meal has not agreed with him.” In a softer voice he leaned across to Aragorn and said, “Come with me – you and Gimli both. I think he is up in his rooms.” To Théoden he said, “Stay here, my lord; there is no need for you to be concerned. We will watch out for him.” And at that Gandalf swept Aragorn and Gimli out of the hall.
Gimli trotted to keep up with the wizard and man’s longer strides; while he ran behind them he heard Aragorn say, “What is it, Gandalf? I’ve never seen Legolas look like that before. Was it something he ate?”
“It was indeed,” growled Gandalf. He looked and sounded very cross. “Oak leaves! What fool puts oak leaves in a honey cake?”
“I’ve certainly never heard of one doing so before,” panted Gimli behind them. “Was that the slightly bitter taste, then? I thought it cut the sweetness of the honey well.”
“In this particular instance, I wish they’d used a different flavoring,” said Gandalf dryly, turning a corner and going up the stairs to the guests’ quarters. “The combination has, shall we say, a distracting effect on our woodland friends.”
Aragorn looked at Gandalf in amazement. “I thought that was but an unfounded rumour,” he said, looking intrigued.
“It’s no rumour,” said Gandalf blackly. He came to Legolas’ door, which was only partially shut; there was a chambermaid outside, holding an armful of firewood, looking perplexed and alarmed at the sounds coming from inside the room.
“I was going to lay the fire, my lords,” she said apologetically, stepping aside, “but the Elf ran past me and pushed me out, and now as you can see . . . “ she stopped, and Gimli could hear Legolas retching horribly inside the room. “I’m not so sure I should interrupt him, now,” she finished.
Gimli ran inside the room. Legolas was on his knees beside a chamber pot, his finger down his throat, urging everything he had eaten at the High Table into it; Aragorn knelt beside him and placed a hand on his diaphragm to help him, but Gimli had to turn away; it made his own gorge rise and he had no desire to re-taste the feast in such a way. “Let me see,” Gandalf said, and Gimli heard him walk over to Legolas; there was a pause, and he said, “I think you ate more than that, Legolas. Let me get you a feather.” Gimli turned in a slight panic to see the chambermaid looking apologetically through the door.
“Give that to me,” said Gimli to her, desperate for something to do; he took the wood from her and brought it to the hearth. He heard Gandalf say firmly to her: “Tell all the servants to leave the Elf alone tonight. He is very ill, and we shall tend him personally.”
“Yes, my lord,” said the girl wonderingly, casting a lingering glance at Legolas, who sat with his face in his hands, his elbows on the edges of the chamber pot while Aragorn pulled his hair from his face to keep it out of the way. That really wasn’t fair, thought Gimli; Legolas could be attractive even while getting sick. Gandalf gently ushered the girl out of the room and shut the door behind her, saying,
“Remember, no one is to come near his room tonight, not even you, my dear.” He closed the door, looked about the room for a moment until his eyes lighted upon a writing table, and took up a quill pen. He gave it to Legolas and said, “Try it again, Legolas, see if you can get any more of it up.”
Gimli turned sharply away and tried to block out the noise by building up the fire, telling himself Legolas would certainly need warmth and comfort after this exercise. It was impossible to drown his friend out entirely, and after fifteen ghastly minutes he heard Aragorn say, “That surely is enough, Gandalf; I don’t even think he ate that much.”
“It always looks like more when it comes back up,” said Gandalf complacently, and Gimli heard Legolas groan. Filled with compassion and not a little guilt, Gimli set up the hearth screen and went over to his friend. Aragorn was removing the chamber pot, and Gandalf was wetting a cloth in the basin. Gimli took it from him and knelt beside Legolas, lightly wiping his damp face and smoothing his golden hair back from his forehead. The Elf was very white, and breathing shallowly and quickly, and his eyes were closed; he looked very wretched.
“There you are, my friend,” said Gimli gently, dabbing at Legolas’ lips and putting his arm around the shaking shoulders. “I’m sure that will set you right.”
“I am not positive it has,” said Legolas, his voice hoarse; his throat had been scratched by the acids in his stomach. “Mithrandir, I still feel it; I didn’t get it all.”
“There is nothing left in you to come up,” said Gandalf, sitting in a chair beside them. “I’m afraid some of it got into your blood despite your precautions.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t enough to cause a problem,” said Aragorn, coming back into the room with a clean chamber pot and setting it down before Legolas.
“No,” said Legolas miserably, hiding his face in his hands once more. “It was sufficient; I can feel it.” He groaned lightly, and lowered his head so far that his forehead rested on the edge of the pot. Gimli anxiously rubbed his back, unsure of what else to do; Legolas’ next words were muffled: “I feel awful.”
There was a knock at the door, and Théoden and Éomer entered, both looking concerned; they looked at Legolas kneeling by the chamber pot and both began apologizing for the food at the banquet. “I had no idea it would upset an Elf’s stomach so,” said Théoden contritely. “Who would have guessed your constitutions were so delicate?”
“They’re not,” said Gandalf. He took out his pipe, glanced at Legolas’ bowed head, changed his mind and put it back. “It was a combination of two foods in the subtlety that did it, I’m afraid – honey and oak leaves.”
“Oak leaves?” said Théoden, puzzled. “I’ve never heard of my cook adding oak leaves to anything, least of all a sweet cake.”
“Are they even edible?” asked Éomer in surprise. “I had no idea.”
Gandalf and Aragorn exchanged glances. “Never?” asked Aragorn, and his voice had a sharp edge to it that did not escape the notice of the two men. “Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” said Théoden. “Never, as long as I have reigned at Meduseld, has my cook added oak leaves to anything. I am often in the kitchens, for I enjoy my meals; I’m sure I would know.”
“Legolas,” said Gandalf, turning to the Elf, “do you want to lie down? Gimli, tuck him up in bed; I see you’ve built a nice high fire, which will also help. Get him out of his tunic; it’s somewhat stained, and get him into a clean nightshirt. Aragorn and I need to speak with Théoden and Éomer.” Gimli nodded and turned to Legolas.
“Come, my friend!” he said gently. “Let me help you up.” While he was thus occupied, Gandalf led the three men outside the room and quietly shut the door. He looked both ways, up and down the hallway, to make sure there was no chance of an eavesdropper hearing him, then he said,
“Théoden, Éomer, Aragorn already knows something of what has been given to Legolas, but I feel obliged to explain to you what is happening to him.” He looked resigned, and even a little uncomfortable. “Oak leaves mixed in honey are – well – I’m sure you’ve heard of love philters, haven’t you?” he asked, a little desperately. “You know, love potions – though they’re not really love potions necessarily; they’re more lust potions – for the fulfillment of desires, not meant for truly making another person fall in love with you.”
“There are no such things as love potions,” scoffed Éomer, looking to Aragorn. “That sort of stuff belongs in a young girl’s romantic stories. It’s ridiculous; I’ve never heard of such a thing in reality.”
“Haven’t you seen enough strange and unusual things lately to convince you otherwise?” asked Aragorn. “I confess, when I read about it myself many years ago I dismissed it as rumour, but if Gandalf says it is the truth, and that Elves are aroused by this combination – “
“As far as I know, it only applies to Wood-Elves,” confessed Gandalf; “I’ve never had occasion to ask Elrond if his people are susceptible as well.”
“Odd!” said Aragorn. “Well, if they are . . . “ he trailed off, looking thoughtful.
“Forget it!” said Gandalf. “You don’t need it, trust me.”
“Besides,” said Gimli, who had come out and heard the last part of the conversation, “the retching wouldn’t be very romantic.”
“How is he?” asked Éomer, looking awkwardly at the door.
“Irritable,” said Gimli with grim satisfaction. “Told me to get my hands off him and let him alone. He’s sitting in front of the fire, wrapped in a blanket.”
“What should we do?” asked Théoden. “Will it pass soon, do you think?”
“Well, he’ll be very cross for a few days,” sighed Gandalf, “but the worst of it should be over tonight. If only we could – “ He glanced around again, then leaned in close to Théoden and said self-consciously, “Have you any whores in Meduseld? Perhaps if we could persuade one to – “
The bedroom door banged open, and Legolas stood before them, white and furious, though Gimli saw his lips and ears were still very pink. He had removed his soiled tunic and leggings and was wrapped only in a blanket; his pale skin looked almost translucent in the dim light of the passageway. “No whores!” he rasped angrily, and slammed the door shut again; they heard the key turn in the lock, and something – the chamber pot, perhaps – clattered as it was kicked over. Gandalf sighed and motioned the three men and the Dwarf to follow him down the passageway, back to the Great Hall.
“No whores,” he said regretfully to Théoden. “It certainly would have made him a more pleasant traveling companion.”
“It’s probably for the best, anyway,” said Gimli thoughtfully; “I don’t think we’d have enough money for a good one; all we could afford would be some old hag, and I’m sure Legolas would be horribly insulted.”
“Gimli,” said Gandalf patiently, “Legolas wouldn’t care if it were an old, bald, toothless witch at this point; the philter is very strong. We must do all we can to keep any female servants away from this passage,” he said to Théoden and Éomer. “I don’t think he’d resort to coercion, but if any chamber maid showed the slightest bit of interest I’m not sure he could restrain himself.”
“Every maid in the city has been making eyes at him since he entered here,” said Éomer, making a wry face. “Yes, we’d best keep the passageway clear. Don’t worry, Gandalf!” he said, clapping the wizard on the shoulder. “I’m sure he’ll get over it soon enough; we’ll just let him be tonight, and we’re off in the morning anyway.”
“And none too soon!” grumbled Gimli. “I don’t like it; why would there have been oak leaves in a honey cake, when there hadn’t been before? It seems very suspicious to me.”
“How would anyone have known?” shrugged Gandalf. “It’s only the most minor piece of trivia; I’m sure no one in the entire kingdom has ever heard of it before.”
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.