7. The Heart Has Its Reasons
'"What do you make so fair and bright?"
. . . I build a boat for Sorrow:
O swift on the seas all day and night
Saileth the rover Sorrow . . .'
WB Yeats, 1885
"What do you mean you will not sit beside me at the banquet?" Thranduil fumed. "Den rhacho 'ni núath, woman! Where, then, would you sit?"
Sigrid almost flinched. Thranduil had never raised his voice to her before, and it troubled her to defy him now. It had become painfully obvious to her why Thranduil and Legolas had chosen to dine privately every night since their arrival, accompanied by only Galion and Legolas's steward, Lord Glavras. It neatly sidestepped the issue of bringing 'Adar's mistress' to the formal table and whether to seat her in a place of honor. "My Lord, it is not proper."
"I will say what is proper and what is not. Has any one of my son's elves said something amiss to you? For if they have I will . . ."
"No," she said quickly. "No one has said a thing. But I am no longer so innocent or so ignorant of proper etiquette that I do not know that the place beside you is reserved for your queen or your wife. And well you know, my Lord, that I am neither."
The look on his face told her she had stung him. "I will have you shown due courtesy," he said. "If you are not allowed to sit beside me, then I will not attend the feast either."
'Stubborn elf!' she thought. "What? And snub King Elessar and Queen Arwen? Have you taken leave of your senses?"
"I have known Aragorn since he was but a gawky lad of twenty summers, barely over his spots and sprouting his first beard," said Thranduil peevishly. "I daresay he puts on his trousers one leg at a time like any other man. I will gladly forego his company at dinner."
"But I will not let you insult him and embarrass your son. Nor will I force an entire assemblage full of nobles to pretend that nothing is amiss while you flaunt your concubine on your arm. Is it not enough that I live openly with you as your leman? Please, Thranduil, do not make me do this."
"She's right, you know," said Galion, who had been quietly watching the entire exchange with a pained expression. "It would be a scandal for sure. It may not be just, but it's the truth, Thran."
Thranduil whirled on his valet. "Am I supposed to see her relegated to a lower table like some . . . servant?"
Galion raised an eyebrow and Sigrid interjected quickly, "Is there some shame in being a servant, my Lord?"
Thranduil startled at this. "No. Of course not. It is merely that you belong at my side."
"I know, my love," she said. "But for this one evening, I may not. I will not."
"In that case," said Galion smoothly, "it will be my privilege and my pleasure to be your escort at dinner tomorrow, Lady Sigrid."
Thranduil's shoulders sagged. "Oh, very well. I cannot fight you both. But it does not mean I accept this willingly." He made a shooing gesture with his hand and Galion bowed and disappeared off through the connecting door to his room, flashing a quick secret smile at Sigrid.
Sigrid turned and went to the dressing table. She faced into her mirror, mostly to avoid looking Thranduil in the eye and began to brush angrily at her hair. She heard him step up behind her, and the wide expanse of his green velvet-clad chest filled the glass. She saw and felt his hands upon her shoulders.
"Hush, now," he said, gently catching her wrist. "You will do yourself no good ripping out your hair." He took the brush from her and set it down, bringing his hand back up to stroke her cheek. "I am so sorry, beloved. I know what I ask of you, and I would give you a better life if I could. Our laws can be cruel. I was too much of a coward to change them when it was requested of me, and now I dare not, when I would be doing it to suit my own convenience. Forgive me."
She sighed and brought her hand up to cover his. "Do you think my life would have been better emptying chamber pots and sweeping floors in Esgaroth? I am willing to accept what I must in order to be with you. And eating dinner with Galion is the least of it."
She felt his lips brush the top of her head. "Dearest, you are more than I deserve."
* * *
"Below the salt isn't such a bad place to sit, now is it?" said Galion, his voice merry with the wine.
"How could it be, with two such handsome fellows as us for company?" said a big blond elf who sat on her other side. He was even merrier with the wine, a fine dark red out of Harad.
Sigrid had to agree. Legolas's cellarer was very good-looking, although she would have been hard pressed to think of an elf who was not fair of face, and Firdal's sunny nature did nothing to detract from it.
"Pass the mint sauce, Firdal," said Galion, "and try to control your undue modesty." Out from under Thranduil's shadow, Galion had proved to be quite the comedic wit, keeping Sigrid nigh unto tears with laughter all evening. If she could not be at Thranduil's side, there was surely no place she would rather be than right here, below the salt.
Sigrid giggled, trying not to spill her wine. "Have mercy on me you two, or I shall spoil your Lord's fine tablecloth."
Sigrid could not recall enjoying herself so much in many a year. For once the eyes were not upon her. She was the one with the luxury of sitting and watching. And watch she did, in between exchanging quips with her two Elven gallants.
Of all the folk at the high table, Queen Arwen fascinated Sigrid the most. Thranduil had told her that Arwen was called Undomiel, the Evenstar, and truly, she was beauty personified, with her dark hair and flawless skin. Sigrid felt glad not to have sat near her, for she would have looked like a weed beside an exotic flower. And yet, for all her beauty, there was a sadness about this Queen of Gondor that Sigrid could not define.
To Arwen's right, between her and Lord Legolas, sat King Elessar himself. Sigrid had no word to describe him other than magnificent. He was Elven tall, and the years had not stooped him. His hair and beard shone silver white, the color of a polished sword, and his eyes were a clear and piercing grey.
On Legolas's other side sat the Dwarf, Gimli. Where King Elessar's hair and beard were silver, Gimli's were white as the snow, full, thick, and put into braids that spilled down his back and tucked into his belt in the front. Bright brown eyes sparkled in the mass of white hair, like two clever birds peering out of a bush.
To Arwen's left, sat Thranduil. Charming as ever, he kept Arwen amused with a steady stream of conversation, and yet, Sigrid noticed, his eyes strayed often in her direction.
"He looks wistful," Galion said. "Leave it to Thranduil to be sitting next to the re-embodiment of Luthien and wish to be somewhere else."
"Queen Undomiel is lovely, it is true, but I am told that she has a sharp side to her tongue when crossed, as would befit Elrond Peredhel's daughter," Firdal whispered. "Our Mistress Sigrid has an equally lovesome mien and a sweet nature besides. I think the two of us have the better bargain tonight, Galion."
King Elessar cleared his throat for silence and raised his glass in a toast. "To good friends, good fellowship, and peace in our time!"
There was a chorus of 'Hear, hears,' and glasses raised throughout the hall. "If ever there were a one with the right to make that toast, it is Aragorn, son of Arathorn," she heard Galion murmur beside her, serious for once as he raised his own glass.
But as the King lowered his goblet, Sigrid saw his hand begin to tremble, and the remaining wine in it sloshed. As quick as a striking snake, the hand of Thranduil's son shot out, catching Elessar's wrist. "Indeed, my dear friend," said Legolas, wrapping the hand with his own slender fingers before the glass could slip from the King's grasp entirely. "To fellowship and peace!" He gently lowered the glass to the table, making the maneuver look like a gesture of affection merely.
Silence followed, mercifully brief. A harp struck. Laughter again filled the hall, and smiles returned to the lips of those at the high table. But Sigrid could not help noting that the merriment did not reach their eyes. Queen Arwen and Lord Legolas kept a wary watch on the King, while Thranduil and the Dwarf kept a discreet yet unwavering gaze upon Legolas. Their eyes held a common look, and it was long before Sigrid could place the emotion she saw written there. It was fear, she decided. Fear of impending loss.
* * *
Three days later, the final day of Elessar's visit, Sigrid sat on the broad terrace beside the palace, watching Thranduil and the King practice archery on the lawn below. Galion had told her that the Wood boasted no finer swordsman than Thranduil, and she had little doubt of that, but he and the King were equally matched in their skill with a bow. Both of them hit their targets with the same frequency, although she noticed that Elessar seemed to be tiring, for he paused to rub his shoulder from time to time, and he drew his bow with greater difficulty as the afternoon drew on. This was to be expected in a man of his years, she supposed.
The dwarf, Gimli, had joined them in the contest. He did not use a bow, but rather some small throwing axes, hitting the butts with a speed and accuracy that Sigrid found surprising for someone of his size and age.
Sigrid heard female voices approaching and recognized the cultured tones of the queen and her ladies, and the swift speech of Gondor. As kind and gracious as she knew Queen Arwen to be, Sigrid simply could not face her. Chiding herself for cowardice, she rose and fled as silent as a deer in the forest. She ran down the terrace and ducked through a wooden door in a high stone wall.
Sigrid found herself in the walled garden she had first seen from her window. Full midsummer had set the flowers into bloom, and tiny half-ripe fruit hung on the espaliered trees. Her attention was captured by one of the rosebushes. The flowers were the deepest shade of red she had ever seen. She bent to sniff the velvety blooms, taking in the scent of wine and pepper and a hint of the lemons Thranduil imported from the south to carry them through the Eryn Lasgalen winters.
"They are lovely, are they not?" Lord Legolas rose from a bench, where he sat, motionless and quiet as if he had been part of the greenery itself.
Sigrid startled and blushed as red as the rose. "Forgive me, my lord, I did not know you were in here."
He laughed. "Even a legendary war hero needs some solitude at times. Watching and listening to my father and my two best friends argue about archery is not my idea of relaxation."
He paused and sighed, stroking the petals of another rose, this time a pale pink one. "I hate to keep these roses behind a wall. It seems unnatural somehow, but the woods are filling again with deer, and they will chew them to stubs unless I protect them. Somehow, the deer at home never ate Father's shrubs or his trees either. I do not know how he manages that."
"Could such a delicate, exquisite thing as this rose survive in wild Eryn Lasgalen?" she asked him.
"I do not know, Mistress Sigrid, " he said with a gentle smile. "You must tell me that, for you would be the one to know."
She blushed again, more deeply this time. Surely the son was as great a charmer as the father. And with Legolas, the charm held a sweetness that tugged at her heart.
"Mistress," he continued, "I would have you know that it was not I who banished you from my table, or counseled my folk to do it. I would sooner have had you with us and Mandos take the wagging tongues."
"I know," she replied, rubbing her thumb against her forefinger, for a thorn had pricked her. "You would have suffered it for love of your father. But I would not do that to you." She looked deep into his blue eyes, shades paler than his father's, but lovely as a spring sky. "Please forgive me, my lord . . . Legolas. I know this cannot be easy for you."
"No," he protested, and then laughed. "Well, yes . . . perhaps a little. But I never knew my mother, you see, so I've no cause to feel any jealousy over it. I have never seen my father so happy as you have made him, and that means much to me."
Sigrid dropped her eyes and colored. At a loss for a reply, she bent to sniff again at the rose. "Such a lovely scent this is."
"Indeed," he said sadly, "but I cannot enjoy it. For many a year my nostrils have been filled with the salt scent of the sea, driving out all other. The only music I hear is the cry of the gulls. I am in agony with the longing. Sigrid, I am glad you are with my father, for he will need all the comfort he can find in the days to come . . . "
* * *
To be continued . . .
* * * * * * *
Den rhacho 'ni núath!: Curse it to the shadows! Equivalent of 'dammit to hell!'
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.