Cophetua: 5. All That Heaven Allows

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5. All That Heaven Allows

Chapter 5: All That Heaven Allows

"All my past life is mine no more,
The flying hours are gone . . .
Then talk not of inconstancy,
False hearts, and broken vows;
If I, by miracle, can be
This live-long minute true to thee,
'Tis all that Heav'n allows."

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Sigrid lay on her back in the soft grass at the side of the stream. The day was warm, and Thranduil had stripped off his clothing and jumped into the water, shouting for Sigrid to join him. After being assured that the water was quite comfortable, Sigrid had undressed and waded in, only to let out a squeal and retreat hastily to the bank, saying, "That was not funny, Thranduil!" Evidently Elven and Mortal standards of 'comfortable' differed.

The first summer after she had come to the wood, Sigrid had been timid about removing her clothing outdoors. "What if one of your elves should chance to spy us?" she had asked nervously.

"This spot is known as my private garden," Thranduil had reassured her. "My people know better than to disturb their King at his sport. Anyone that does will find his ears in a flask on my desk."

Her eyes had grown large at this, and he laughed. "Sweet one, that is a figure of speech merely. Can you not tell when I am jesting? After all this time, my people know my ways and I theirs. They take care not to incur my displeasure."

"When the King is content, the people are happy," she ventured.

"That is quite true," he replied, with what she was coming to look upon as his Wood-king smile. And indeed, the mood in the palace was a cheerful one, for all that the elves still tended to look at her as if she were some kind of curiosity.

After splashing about for a time, Thranduil had gotten out of the water and joined her on the bank in the sun. He now lay with his head on her stomach, idly twining wood-violets into her pubic hair.

Overhead. fluffy white clouds drifted through a patch of open sky. Sigrid amused herself by picking shapes out of them. The latest resembled a winged serpent. "Thranduil," she said lazily, "was there ever truly such a thing as a dragon? Or was it just an old wives' tale told in Esgaroth to frighten the children?"

"Indeed there were dragons, my love. And trolls, and goblins, and other things, both fair and foul. Arda was filled with magic in ages past. It is fading from the world now, as all things must." He sounded rather wistful, she thought. "Of course, I could have done without that dragon. I have seen two towns reduced to smoking ruins thanks to that vile worm. For such fell power to be gone forever from the world can only be a good thing."

"You saw the beast with your own eyes?"

He rolled over to face her and nodded. "I saw it up close. It is not an experience I would care to repeat."

"Did you kill it?"

He shook his head. "In the end, it was a Man from Laketown who shot it down." He sighed. "I suppose it is meet that it was a mortal who did the deed. The glory of my people is passing, along with the magic of this world. And that is the way of things, too."

Moved by the sadness in his voice, she stroked his shoulder, running her hand down to the tattoo on his left bicep. Over the past two years she had learned much of the language of the Wood-elves, and she had begun to be able to read the tengwar also, but these marks on her lord's body remained a mystery. "What does this mean, my love? I try, but I still cannot make sense of it."

"You would not be able," he said, "for they are written in a tongue far older than the Grey-elven, and in the Runes of Daeron, rather than the tengwar. This mark on the left means 'loyalty,' and the one on the right reads 'strength.' These words I wear to remind me of the duty I owe to the people I rule and protect."

"And this one, on your chest?"

She saw his eyes go shuttered as surely as if the portcullis had dropped on the water-gate that allowed the empty barrels to go down river from the cellars. "It is of no matter. An old pledge, merely." He did the same when he woke crying out in the night from dreams of some long-ago battle. This she knew, for she had learned the words for sword and blood, but to her grief, there were some memories Thranduil would not share, some places she could not go. She could only hold him until he slept again.

He must have seen that she was troubled, for he kissed her. "I am old, beloved. I will not drag you down with the weight of the ages, for they are gone. You are here with me now, and that is all that matters."

"And I could stay here forever, in this lovely spot, with you."

"Then I shall make it so," he said softly and kissed her again.

"I see my Lord is fully recovered from the cold water," she said.

"Very funny, mistress minx. The cold water has that effect on all of us. And what have I told you to call me?"

"Thranduil. In your bed. Does that edict extend to this riverbank?"

"Is it not our bed?" he said playfully.

"Is there any spot, then, in this forest that has not yet been your bed?"

He knitted his brows in mock confusion. "Now that you mention it, there are a few. And what a lovely quest it would make to rectify that oversight!"

"Thranduil . . ." she said after a time. "You are going to crush the violets."

"Mmmm . . . poor violets," he whispered. "Poor violets; lucky Thranduil . . ."

* * *

And yet, despite the happiness she took in the love of her Elven-lord, there was one thing that marred Sigrid's contentment. She betook herself to Thranduil's chief healer.

"What brings you to me, Mistress Sigrid?" Nestalinde said placidly, a kind look in her fathomless grey eyes. "Is there aught amiss with you? For you seem the very picture of health to me."

Sigrid hesitated. Of all of Thranduil's elves, Nestalinde was the most friendly to her, save for Galion of course. Even after all this time, she found some of the others looking at her strangely when they thought she did not see, although none of them was ever outwardly discourteous to her. And yet at the same time, Sigrid found this dark-haired elf woman to be intimidating, for the others deferred to her, and even Thranduil himself seemed in awe of her. Master Galion had whispered to her one day that there was no one among them who could remember Nestalinde as a child. It was said that she had been among the eldest of the company when Thranduil's father, Oropher, brought the people east from Lindon. Sigrid had only the foggiest idea of how long ago these events were, but one look into Nestalinde's grave face told her that she was very old indeed. The concerns of one Mortal woman seemed paltry indeed in the face of the sorrows and wisdom of long ages.

She took a deep breath for courage. "I have been with my Lord Thranduil for over two years now, and yet I do not conceive."

Nestalinde raised one dark eyebrow.

Sigrid blushed. "I can assure you that this is not for lack of . . . energy on the part of my Lord."

Nestalinde's lips pursed in what Sigrid could have sworn was a wry smile. "I daresay. Is this a sorrow to you?"

"To me? No, but to my Lord, surely. Does not every man desire heirs of his body?" In old memory, she could hear the taunts of Wulf, chiding Asa for her childlessness. He had been cruel, bringing Asa to tears often. Sigrid feared the taint ran in her own blood. "Nestalinde, am I barren? For I do not wish to disappoint my Lord in any way."

It seemed to Sigrid that she heard the elf woman sigh. "No, my dear. The fault is not in you. It is in him. Thranduil waited almost three thousand years before he was blessed with a child, and I know it was a bitter thing for him to bear. For what male does not see the begetting of a child as an affirmation of his manhood?"

Sigrid hoped that Nestalinde had not heard her sharp intake of breath. "He has an heir?"

"Thranduil's son is a boon companion of King Elessar Telcontar, having fought with him in the war to defeat Sauron. Our Prince Legolas now rules his own Elven realm in Ithilien, east of Gondor."

Sigrid fought to control her emotions, lest she betray them to this other woman. Why had no one told her this?

"Sigrid," said Nestalinde, "it is not your fault. I doubt Thranduil is capable of a child by you. And even if it were possible, it will not be. It must not be."

"They would be bastards," Sigrid said, bleakly.

"You mistake me, Sigrid. We Elves love all children regardless of their origins. Our language did not even have the concept of 'bastard' until we met the Second Born."

"Then it is because I am . . ." Sigrid waved her hands helplessly past her ears, "not of your kind. For I know I am not good enough that he should wed me."

"Oh, no, dearest child, you are so wrong!" said Nestalinde. "I have known Thranduil all his life -- he was born into my hands, did you know that? As his healer, I know his heart as well as any, save perhaps Galion, and I know it is a grief to him that he must force you to be seen by others as his concubine. But he cannot wed you. There is the matter of the queen, his wife."

"If he has a son, it stands to reason he must have had a wife," Sigrid said bitterly. "Do you say that she left him?"

"No. She died."

"If she is dead, where is the obstacle to his taking me to wife?"

Nestalinde sighed. "Our kind holds that the bonds of marriage are between faer rather than rhaw. The death of the body does not sever the bond. By our tradition, Thranduil is a married man and may not wed you lawfully before his people, no matter how much he might wish to do it."

"That seems cruel," Sigrid said.

"Aye, very cruel. Especially in this realm where so many have lost mates to war and the creatures of the Shadow -- even before they knew the joy of children. We have lost many good folk who sailed, seeking their re-embodied loved ones in Aman. Others remain here, solitary, for love of home and people. It has caused our King to question the wisdom of the Belain."

"Is it common, then, to take a lover?" Sigrid knew that rich men, and some poor ones too, would often take mistresses, although it was not precisely respectable. She had thought it was the same among the Elves, especially for the King.

Nestalinde shook her head. "I will not say that it is unknown for the lonely to seek comfort. But never openly."

"Never?" Sigrid bit her lip. No wonder her Lord's elves looked at her strangely. "They must think me a very trollop," she said.

"No," said Nestalinde. "They think that Thranduil has lost his wits -- not that any would dare say him nay. You, they like, for the King has never been so content. Not since the death of his queen at any rate. And for that happiness, we are all grateful."

Sigrid felt a heaviness in her heart. "Mistress Nestalinde, was she beautiful?"

"Child, would you torture yourself?"

Sigrid nodded. "I must know."

It seemed to Sigrid that the Elf-woman's eyes bored into her, filled with pity . . . and something else. "Lalaithiel was as beautiful as the day," she said quietly.

"How did she die?"

Again, Sigrid could sense the reluctance to speak; the portcullis coming down, secrets being kept from her. "She died giving life to our Prince." Nestalinde's face was somber. "So you see, Sigrid, even if Thranduil could get a child on you, he will not. He holds back that effort of spirit which, for us, is the making of a new life. He will not risk it. He will not risk losing you."

Sigrid remained silent, pondering.

Nestalinde sighed. "If this lack of children will be a sorrow to you, I will speak to Thranduil. I will insist he let you go."

Sigrid shook her head quickly. "No. I know the day will come too soon when I age and he tires of me. I will go willingly then, but for now let me enjoy the time I have with my Lord. Even if it means never holding a child of my own in my arms, and being seen always as his concubine, I will stay."

"Sigrid, you do not know the way of Elves as yet. Thranduil will never send you away. He can be headstrong sometimes, and selfish when he wants something. But he is kind." Nestalinde furrowed her pale brow. "And I can tell you with all honesty that you have his heart. You have always had that, and you always will."

"Until my death?" Sigrid looked at the elf woman in wonderment. There was something there, deep in that penetrating gaze that she could not puzzle out. Such a deep sadness.

"No, my dear child. Until the end of all things . . ."

* * *

To be continued . . .

* * * * * * *

Author's Note:

Sindarin/English translations:
Faer: spirit -- the Sindarin equivalent of fëa
Rhaw: body -- the Sindarin equivalent of hroa
Belain: Gods, Valar

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.

Story Information

Author: Jael

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 05/31/09

Original Post: 01/30/07

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