8. The Weight of Choice, Part 1
Terisda stared at herself in the polished glass, studying her reflection with a critical eye. She had not used much in the way of paint, for court affectations would give her away, but there was a touch around her lids to disguise how swollen from weeping they were. For color she used many ribbons, ruthlessly tying off thick strands of hair near her scalp in a way that gave the illusion of curls. She wore a simple housedress, one that set off her shoulders and neck to advantage. The overall result looked enough like a servant that none would question her too closely, she decided. Indeed, she looked better than she had when she attracted Legolas' attentions --
You mean, when you threw yourself at him so shamelessly he was forced to take notice--and even then, you had to beg--
"Well, Men won't be so hard to convince," she told the reflection defiantly. It responded with a nod that made the curls bounce, but the unsettled sensation in her stomach grew. She had no idea where she had found the strength to even consider such actions before, let alone act upon them. No, not strength; despair. She was not feeling any more hopeful than she had after the battle, but the odd determination that possessed her in the first days after had faded into a gray hopelessness she found hard to combat.
And it would have to be soon. Very soon. Few would question a babe that stayed a little overlong in the womb, but Terisda knew she was already at the very edge of tolerance becoming suspicion. Ten months was unusual but not impossible, and many would immediately take the stress of her husband's death as reason enough. Eleven months -- well. She would just have to do her best over the next week, that was all.
She did know of several taverns in the lower circles, and some pubs in more reputable locales, and it was upon these establishments she now pinned her meager hopes. Hirgon sometimes went to such places with friends of his in the Tower Guards, but despite his indulgence of her he would not allow her on any of the night revels, although sometimes he would take her to the better pubs for a meal in the daytime. She usually got a full, if slightly incoherent, report upon his return, which oft concluded with the comment that he was very glad he was married, because what the lads went through to attract the attention of the lasses in those places was too much work. Then the drink would take effect and he would fall asleep on the bed fully dressed, snoring loudly. She recalled tugging his boots off with more fondness than her grumbling at the time would have indicated. Wrapping her arms around herself, she gripped hard enough for it to hurt, and so fought off this memory as she had been fighting off others all afternoon. With the reality of his death confirmed, remembrances of Hirgon held at bay during the last month were crowding into her mind, clambering for attention, but they were interfering with what had to be done and she was determined to hold them off a while longer.
The irony of using Hirgon's critiques of local pubs and taverns to determine where she might best achieve her goal was not lost on her. There was also the danger that some of these places might have a Tower Guard or two in attendance who would recognize her. Not with my hair like this, she tried to reassure herself, but unbidden came the thought that Legolas had no trouble recognizing her when her own mother likely would not have, and she looked far more like her usual self tonight. She glanced at herself for final reassurance, but her reflection had a skeptical twist to its mouth, and apart from confirming that she looked well enough, it gave her no comfort.
And she was not going to get herself with child by conferring endlessly with her mirror image.
She smoothed her hands against her skirt nervously and turned away from the glass. Her fingers shook when she reached for the latch of her door. She pulled back, took several deep, full breaths, and when she reached out again her hand was steady. She looked both ways when she stepped out into the hall, but did not see any of the new servants. Terisda wasn't sure what servants did in the early evening, but whatever it was, it evidently required that they be in a different part of the house. She crept down the stairs as silently as she could, wincing at every creak the old wood made under her feet. In the antechamber she paused, glancing around again. There were some faint sounds from the kitchen; good, she thought. That will cover the noise of my escape. She stepped into the hallway leading to the exit and freedom as dread and excitement curled together sharply in her stomach.
Halfway down the hall, looking a little surprised, one of the new servants hastily got to her feet. There was a short, round table next to her chair, with a freshly-lit candle and a book, face down to hold the reader's place. Terisda stared blankly for a moment. The maid smiled at her shyly. "My lady, may I help you? If you need something from the kitchens, or you would like a bath prepared, you only have to ring the bell in your room and one of us will attend you."
"It's late for that," replied Terisda, although in truth it wasn't.
"Do not worry about that, my lady. I have the night watch, and the others are still about. We will be happy to get what you need."
Terisda looked helplessly at the maid standing eagerly by the chair in the hallway, and so she was made aware once again of her lack of freedom. "No," she finally said, "I require nothing of you." And she turned and made her way back, leaving the servant staring after her in bemusement.
The creaks were just as loud even though she was no longer trying to walk cautiously as she went slowly up the stairs. Blindly she found her way to her room and the dressing table within. She crashed into the seat, her hands over her face, fighting conflicting emotions of relief and despondency. Sighing, she opened her eyes and reached up to pull out the ribbons in her hair. She paused, lips slightly parted, as her gaze went to one side of her own reflection.
Legolas was leaning against the far wall, arms crossed over his chest, his long smooth hair falling over his shoulder as his head tipped slightly to the side. Although the house was shut up tight, Terisda found that his presence did not surprise her. She accepted that there was no door or lock ever created that could keep out an Elf. For all she knew or cared, they walked through walls at will. She dropped her hands from her hair, and folded them on the table, twisting her fingers together in an effort to control her emotions.
He smiled slightly. "You always do that when you try not to be too hasty."
"What?" She could not keep the defensive note out of her voice.
The reflected gaze dropped, and she followed it to her hands. "Twine your fingers together so tightly I wonder if blood still flows."
Self-conscious, Terisda pulled her hands apart and laid them flat on the table.
Legolas moved away from the wall. She tensed as she watched him approach, but he simply touched one of the ribbons with his long fingers. "You're going out?"
It was the wrong question, and Terisda responded acerbically. "Apparently not. One of my new maids is sitting in the hall, which effectively makes her the warden of my virtue. What are you doing here?"
He made no reply, but began to gently tug at the ribbons, untying them all until her dark hair fell down her back. She eyed him askance in the mirror. His mood was so different from the last time they spoke, so like it was when they first met, that she was confused. He reached past her, and she flinched again, but he merely picked up the brush from next to her hand and carefully began to run it through her hair. As the bristles caught and tugged at the occasional soft tangle she was again reminded of how different they were. She had seen the Elf lords after brutal battle, and whatever other deprivations Elves might endure, she was convinced that tangles were not a problem their kind ever faced. Her confusion melded into irritation, and she spoke tartly. "I wonder that you can stand to touch it. It is thick as mud compared to yours."
His brows went up, and he laid aside the brush and twined the long fingers of both hands into the hair near her ears, then slowly pulled his fingers to the nape of her neck. "Not mud," he murmured. "More like the churning of the Anduin near the rapids; alive and bright and tumbling."
It was hard not to shiver when he spoke so, and touched her so. "I doubt you came here to style my hair."
Legolas did not answer at first but delicately twisted his fingers through the hair at her neck until she pulled away with a small jerk of her head and he released her. His eyes met hers in the mirror. "I do not blame you for your actions," he said after a considering pause. "I merely wish you had been honest with me from the start."
She felt as if she were holding the conversation by proxy, and turned in the chair to look at him directly. He tilted his head down, meeting her eyes, but she could not read what was in his gaze. "And if I told you--?"
"I would have informed you that your time was better spent with your own kind," Legolas said, dryly. "You made the choices you made, however, and now options for you are fewer than they were."
"I had thought of my own kind, but once I saw you no-one else would do."
"Why is that?"
She reached out, and touched his lips with two of her fingertips. "Your smile," she whispered. "It reminded me of his smile--of Hirgon--"
His eyes widened, then narrowed, and Terisda saw with a certain satisfaction that she had surprised him. "I never met your husband, but I knew Boromir, and I do not look like him, nor like any other descendant of Numenor."
"No--not at all. I wish you did. I could better excuse myself if you did." To her horror her treacherous eyes filled again, and she could not prevent the words from spilling out even as the tears overflowed and spilled. "He is all but forgot. There would be no Minas Tirith without him, for we would not have lasted without the coming of the Horseriders and the King would have returned to a burnt husk of a city. Even Faramir thinks only of the kinsman he has lost, rather than the hero who saved his city. They sing songs of this Frodo Nine-Fingers in the streets, Legolas. Where are the songs for Hirgon?" And for the second time that day, she covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly.
"Little one," Legolas whispered, "Torrey, shh." He bent and took her into his arms, pulling her up and holding her, then sweeping her off her feet and taking her to the bed when she would not calm. He lay back, holding her sprawled on top of him, and her fingers twisted into the folds of his tunic as she sobbed into his shoulder. "Shh; there, there." And he said other nonsense words as well, but she could not hear more than the hint of his voice through her sobbing, so he held her and murmured to her, stroking her hair and back with his cool hands, until his calming influence began to take effect and she quieted to sniffles. At length she became aware of where they were, and their position, and she lifted her head and regarded him warily. He smiled at her, and touched her face, and gently swept his thumbs against her cheeks as he brushed away tears. "I wanted to go to you in the throne-room. It took all my willpower to remain still. If Elladan had not stepped forward, I think I would have thrown all caution to the winds. Yet if I came bounding up the steps of the King's throne to comfort you, it would have raised more than eyebrows. I did not wish you to suffer any suspicion because of impetuous behavior on my part. Indeed, I feared you might become even more distrait if you knew of my presence. So I remained silent -- but it was a hard thing to do."
From the moment she stepped into the room, Terisda's world narrowed to the two Kings. An oliphaunt could have blundered through the doors and she would have been oblivious. "I saw you not."
Legolas' smile turned wry. "Just as well. Elladan's father is a great healer, and although it is not his foremost gift, Elladan has considerable skill himself. He was able to bring you back to yourself far quicker than I could have done." His expression shifted and became serious, and when he spoke what he said was unexpected to her. "Tell me of Hiranion."
"I cannot speak of him without speaking of Hirgon."
"I do not mind words spoken of a noble man."
She thought it odd to speak of one lover while laying in the arms of another, and sought to free herself with small shrugs and tugs. Rather than release her, Legolas' hands fell to her arms, and he sat up, and shifted his weight until he was leaning with his back again the headboard, and she was tucked against his chest with his arms around her and her cheek resting against the cloth covering his shoulder. It was not unpleasant, and she gave up the unequal struggle and relaxed against him. "I have avoided speaking of him for so long, I do not know where to begin. You are right, Legolas; Hirgon was a noble man. Perhaps Hiranion is not so ignoble. When Hirgon was ... here, all I could see was their differences. Now I am very much aware of their similarities."
"Yet you are afraid of him."
"Yes," she admitted. "Yes. He terrifies me. It is half fears of my own making, I tell myself, but then there is a look or a touch from him, and I am not so sure."
"I find myself thinking it might not be so bad."
"I don't understand. What might not be so bad?"
"Whatever he requires of me," Terisda said, flatly. "Whether it be to decorate his hall, marry some merchant in Laketown that he wishes to do business with, or amuse him in his own bed. It is no more than other women have to endure, and they survive." He covered the slight hand resting near his neck and stroked the back of it gently with his thumb, and just as she took strength from the Elf lord in the King's hall, she somehow found strength from this small touch as well. She raised her head and gazed at him steadily. "I would rather speak of the land, since it caused harsh words between us before."
"It did not--" he started to protest, but she directed a sour look at him, and Legolas had the grace to pause before raising his shoulders in a slight, elegant shrug. "We Elves do not understand Men and their insistence on land. We live with the land, not 'off' of it, as Men say. 'Owning' land is utterly alien to us. The memory of you was sweet to me, coming as it did between two spans of horror, and I suppose I was perturbed to find it was more -- calculated than I knew at the time."
Terisda winced at that, but it was a fair assessment so she did not protest. "My husband loved the land. Not that Hiranion doesn't, I suppose, but what they each saw in it was very different. They oft had words over it. Hiranion thought of the value in the trees, and spoke of what could be gained by harvesting them. But Hirgon would not permit axe to be set to wood unless the wood was already diseased. There was more value in one grove of living trees, he told me, than in all the timber in the world. Hiranion would no doubt take good care of me," and here her voice was bitter again, "and mayhap even of the home of my ancestors, but it would not be like the care my husband would have taken. A year or two of his stewardship, and I will not recognize the home of my childhood."
"It has been overrun with orcs these many years," replied Legolas. "You will not recognize it now." But there was a slightly altered note in his voice, and she looked at him sharply but could not tell what he was thinking. She was working up the courage to ask him when the most ungeentel thing occurred. Her stomach rumbled. Loudly.
Legolas burst out laughing at her chagrin. Then he regarded her with mock severity. "When did you last eat?"
She started to answer impatiently, paused, then admitted in surprise, "I don't know. Yestermorn, perhaps."
He made a small disapproving noise, and began to untangle himself from her. "Elves occasionally die of grief, but of hunger? No. No Elf would be that foolish. Stay here."
"Where could I possibly go?" she said more lightly than she felt, but it was to an empty room. Terisda watched the shutter of the window slowly swing back into place, shrugged, and settled more comfortably onto the bed. She supposed it was better for him to be clambering in and out of her window than tip-toeing about the halls, especially if her own excursion was any indication. Folding her hands across her midriff, she stared fixedly at the window, determined just once to catch him in the act of entering a room. But she had never been the most patient of people, and after the first few minutes she began to look elsewhere in the room for distractions, and it was after one of those moments when she turned her eyes back that she found Legolas already standing before the window, the shutters swinging gently behind him.
She was caught by the expression of mischief on his face, and a suspicion grew. "You do that on purpose."
"Do what?" the Elf queried in all innocence, but that bright, unfeigned smile flashed a moment later, and she was reminded all over again of why it was she settled upon him.
From beneath his tunic he took bread and cheese, unwrapping them and setting them before her with a flourish, and from its place tucked into his belt he pulled a bottle of wine. "We'll get crumbs on the bed," she protested.
"Then we'll shake the bedclothes out." He placed the bottle on the table next to the bed, then after consideration took the water glass that was already there, drained it, and replaced it. "That will have to do for a goblet." He sat cross-legged on the covers, and broke the bread and cheese and served it to her, and although he couldn't quite coax her to laughter at first, Terisda found herself smiling quite a bit. In a short while she had eaten most of the repast while he had very little, and what wine was drunk was all on her side, for although she offered to share the glass he wrinkled his nose at the thought. "You mortals are always spoiling good berries by letting them foam too long." For some reason that struck her as very funny, whereupon Legolas grinned and took the bottle, holding it out to the side and firmly telling her she had had enough. Terisda rose to her knees on the shifting surface of the bed and made a grab for it, but overbalanced and fell against him. After that she wasn't sure what happened to the bottle, but Legolas let her bear him down backwards until she sprawled atop him again, and even let her frame his fair face with her hands and slowly kiss him on the mouth, but he turned his head away when she would have done so again. So she tucked her face against his neck and rested, and he gently ran his fingers under her hair and idly played with the soft skin at the nape of her neck.
And although her eyes still stung from all the weeping she had done, and she was sure her face was decorated with unsightly splotches from her most recent fit of crying, Terisda felt the slow beat of his strong heart under her fingers and his soft touches against her neck and shoulders and, for the first time since the siege, felt some measure of equanimity about her situation.
After a long while the Elf stirred, and put his hands on her waist and gently moved her to the side. "I will be gone from Minas Tirith for a short time," he told her. Reaching out, he tugged gently on a strand of hair next to her face, still curled slightly from the ribbons earlier, and one corner of his mouth turned up. "I cannot tell you what to do, but I will ask that you have a care. Men can be ... negligent, at times."
"I am not going anywhere or doing anything," Terisda responded, her tone lazy rather than belligerent; the wine had a mellowing influence on her tongue as well as her mood. "It was not his intent, I think, but Hiranion's women have me imprisoned as surely as if they were ordered to keep me under lock and key."
"Oh, but none may keep an Elf in or out," he said lightly, "nor may any see an Elf unless he wants to be seen. So do not give into despair, Torrey. I will visit you again." He dropped a kiss against her hair. Terisda smiled vaguely at him, but she fell almost immediately into a dreamless slumber (which was as Legolas intended, for he thought that she had been avoiding sleep as well as sustenance), and so she did not see him depart.