11. As Boundless As the Sea
My bounty is as boundless as the sea
My love as deep.
The more I give, the more I have,
For both are infinite.
Wm Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
Legolas awoke in Khorlai's bed to the cry of a peacock and the play of the fountain outside. Pink light splashed the walls of the king's bedchamber. The hour was early still.
Experimentally, he moved a leg and clenched a deep muscle. He felt sore, to be sure, but no worse than what he would have expected from a good workout with his bow, or from some other unaccustomed exertion.
Thinking back on the night before, Legolas supposed he ought to feel sullied in some fashion. If the legends were to be trusted, he should be halfway to fading from grief and shame. And yet he found he felt quite the opposite. He felt rather good, actually, and it surprised him.
He had lain with another man and had found it not entirely unpleasant. Never would he have thought that could be possible, yet Khorlai had proved a kind and encouraging lover, never seeming to notice Legolas's inexperience and his amazement at the sensations that two bodies could provide, as he first took and then allowed himself to be taken. And then . . . Legolas smiled and felt the blood rush to his cheeks as he recalled the night.
The king's arm was still draped gently around his middle, and he felt it tighten. "Good morning, Maitimo. Do you always sleep with your eyes open?"
Legolas rolled over to meet Khorlai's gaze. The king lay on his side, his head propped on one bent elbow, smiling at him lazily. "Not always, my lord. There are a few places where I feel secure enough -- my father's house, my own and several others -- where I close my eyes to sleep. This is the way of my Folk."
Khorlai sighed. "I would that I could keep you here with me until you felt safe enough in my bed to close your eyes in rest. It would be a rare gift to see one of the Nimîr sleep the true sleep. But I fear such is not to be. I think it is time for me to send you home, Maitimo."
Legolas tensed. "Have I offended or displeased in some way, my lord?"
"On the contrary, Beautiful One," Khorlai said. "You have performed admirably. I would keep you longer, but I need you to carry a message to your king. Your mission here is complete. You shall return home with my permission for Gondor to send us ambassadors."
'Elbereth be praised,' Legolas thought. "I thank you graciously, my lord. Shall I retire to my own chambers now?"
"Yes," Khorlai sighed. "You may."
Legolas rose, retrieved his trousers from the spot where they had slid to the floor the previous evening, and returned to the bed to sit and pull them on.
"Elessar must be a very great king," Khorlai said at last, "to inspire such loyalty in his friends. Someone like that must be worthy of my trust as well."
Legolas grew still, studying his bare toes, one foot in his trousers, the other halfway. "My lord," he replied quietly, "Aragorn, son of Arathorn is a man among men. I would die for him."
"Ah, I see," Khorlai said. "Well, I hope you shall never have to. It is my wish that henceforth no one of our folk shall have to give up his life in conflict with the other. You have done a brave thing, Maitimo."
Legolas inclined his head. "Aye, my lord." He went to pick up his shirt and found it draped over the low table near the spent water-pipe.
"Maitimo . . ." said Khorlai, as Legolas began to thread his arms into his sleeves.
"I feel I owe you an apology for last night."
Legolas turned to Khorlai and furrowed his brow. "How so?"
"I pressed you, Nimru. It is not my custom to take favors where they are not offered freely, be it from bêthnaru or any other. I have no excuse for myself, other than I drank too much wine, smoked too much kief and let myself be carried away by the magic of the evening." Khorlai paused and sighed. "And . . ."
"And, what, my lord?" Legolas waited patiently.
"You must forgive me, Maitimo. I could not resist the opportunity to taste such beauty and take it to myself, even if only for a fleeting moment. Unlike you First Born, we mortals do not have all the time in the world; we must take what joy we can in the brief years available to us, or not at all."
Legolas looked at the man on the bed, strong still, and lusty, as he had learned so well last night. But already the signs of age were upon him, his body marked with the scars of war and the shrinkage of time, his hair, both on his head and in the prickly mass at his groin thinly shot with grey. 'They do not last forever,' Legolas thought with a pang. 'Ai, it will take Aragorn thus. It will take them all.'
"You sang the doom last night in your song, Maitimo," said Khorlai, as if sensing Legolas's thoughts. "For if you will not when you may . . ."
"You shall not when you will," Legolas finished softly.
"And so I reached out and took, while I might. Forgive me, Nimru, but it was worth it. I will carry the memory of last night to the grave. You will remember me, too, I think, and to live forever in the mind of one such as you is all the immortality a Man can hope to have."
Legolas took in a deep breath. "Oh, that I shall, my lord."
"Please, Maitimo," said Khorlai with a wry smile, "I would, just this once, have no formality between us. I am not so ignorant of the ways of Gondor that I do not know the land has no tradition of the bêthnari. My gift of Barlomi, knowing that one would be expected in kind, was my subtle way of discovering how sincere Elessar is in his desire for peace. I do not know where he found you, or who you really are, and I shall not dishonor your privacy with my speculations. However, I wish to hear my name on your lips. You did just spend the night in my bed, after all."
'Ai, Rodyn, he knows,' Legolas told himself, momentarily at a loss for words.
'You may curse me for my deception, if you wish," Khorlai continued. "Just as long as you do it by my true name, as one man speaks to another."
Once again, Legolas found himself vacillating between feeling flattered and the wish to throttle. Khorlai had tricked him, knowingly, and yet . . . what had this Adan done, save to pleasure him, treat him gently, and make him feel exquisitely desirable? Which should have been the task of Maitimo the bêthnaru, had Legolas been in truth what he purported to be.
"The joys of love rest not so much in the groin as in the head. My job is to give my patrons the illusion of being desired as much as they desire me." In memory, Legolas heard the teasing tones of Barlomi's voice, and in his mouth he tasted again the flavor of bitter ale. Ai, Dwarven ale!
Khorlai had wished, like so many others, to grasp at a glistening moonbeam. How very, very . . . human.
Oh yes, he could curse him, but understanding at last his power to hurt and to heal, Legolas instead found himself laughing quietly. He rose, went to the head of the bed and laid a kiss upon the king's cheek. "No, Khorlai, I shall not curse you. Surely not for deception. I thank you, rather, for the lesson in life and mortality, which so many of my kind never learn. And I most certainly will never forget you."
And yet, as he retrieved his harp and made his way back to his own apartments, Legolas could not rid his mind of the vision of the vast deserts of years that lay before him; all eternity to mourn lost opportunities, and so little time in which to take them.
Two nights later, Legolas knocked softly upon the carved wooden door of a private apartment. After a time, the door opened, revealing the face of Phazan, his expression one of surprise at his obviously unexpected caller.
"May I come in?" Legolas said.
"Maitimo, I . . ."
"I know. You would not presume. But I will."
Phazan bit his lip and began to shake his head. "I don't want your pity."
"This has nothing to do with pity."
"What has it to do with, then?"
"This is nothing," said Legolas, reaching out to touch Phazan's ruined cheek. "You must believe me when I tell you that I do not see it anymore. My time with you has led me to see only the man behind it, and I find that man fair indeed. I come to you tonight not as a bêthnaru, but as a friend. Shall we continue to discuss this in the hallway or are you going to let me in?"
Slowly, Phazan nodded, his one eye glistening brighter than usual. He stepped aside and motioned Legolas inside. "Did you bring a chessboard with you tonight?"
"No," said Legolas. "Just myself."
The door shut behind them.
Legolas squared his shoulders and held his head high as he entered Khorlai's throne room for the last time, so different from the first. Again, he walked the length of the hall, between ranks of assembled courtiers, once strangers, but whose faces were now familiar to him.
From the dais up ahead, Zamin caught his eye and smiled, a little sadly, Legolas thought. They had made their farewells in private, Zamin kissing him and wishing him well. 'Oh, Lady, I shall miss you too,' Legolas sighed to himself. But as the thought crossed his mind, he saw Huzun, who was standing close behind her, lay an affectionate hand on her shoulder. His previous haughty sneer had gone, and it seemed to Legolas that he looked almost tender. With a glance at Legolas and a gentle upturn of her mouth, Zamin reached up to stroke the Vizier's hand. Legolas nodded, his own smile becoming wistful.
On the other side of the dais, sat the Princess Nimitha, with her newly betrothed beside her. Khorlai, obviously a man of action once he had made up his mind, as Legolas knew all too well, had wasted no time announcing his daughter's marriage the evening before. In her newfound happiness, Nimitha glowed with an inner light that rivaled that of the First Born. Azrulbar, on his part, had the dazed, joyful look of a man who has strayed into a dream.
On the throne sat Khorlai himself, as magnificent and outwardly intimidating as the first time Legolas beheld him. Yet he looked into the king's dark eyes and met his smile with confidence, for he had seen this man in the throes of passion and had heard his pleasured sighs, as he died what the mortals called the small death. 'Truly,' thought Legolas with an infinite tenderness, 'beneath the pomp and the power we are all the same.'
Then Legolas drew in his breath, for, from the shadows behind the throne, a figure stepped forth. Phazan, having changed his librarian's garb for the robes of a prince and wearing a patch over his missing eye, came slowly forward to take his place at his father's side. Legolas caught Phazan's eye and smiled in encouragement, and the prince nodded back, as an approving murmur ran through the assembled court.
Legolas dropped to one knee. "My lord."
"Rise, Maitimo," Khorlai said. "Before I give you your commission, I have yet another joyous announcement in addition to the forthcoming marriage of my daughter. My son, after years in seclusion, has decided to return to public life." Khorlai dropped his voice so low that only elven ears could have heard his words. "Thank you, Nimru. Thank you."
Legolas looked into the king's eyes and nodded, unable for the moment to trust his voice.
"Master Maitimo," Khorlai continued, clearing his throat and raising his voice to kingly intonation as he handed a sealed packet to Legolas, "I charge you to carry this missive to Gondor and place it into the hand of your king. It is my hope that we can put aside the mistrust that has divided our peoples in the past. May the wind and wave speed your journey and the eye of The One watch over you."
"My Lord Khorlai," said Legolas, taking the packet and putting it inside his shirt, "I, Maitimo, Courtesan of the House of Elessar Telcontar, give you my thanks and take my leave."
With one final bow to Khorlai and his family, Legolas drew his cloak about him and turned to depart the throne room, striding between the ranks of waiting nobles.
At the very last, just before the attendants opened the huge brass doors for him, Legolas spied Yanâkhim the bêthnaru sitting at the back of the audience chamber. He caught the young man's kohled eye, pausing to wink impishly. "All yours, my friend," he whispered aside, before going out into the bright light of the courtyard.
Only one task remained before making his way to the docks. Legolas knocked on a modest door in the servants' quarters of the palace, where a weary looking woman opened it to him. An older woman sat on a bench inside, and she looked up expectantly as she saw Legolas in the doorway. "Hello, Grandmama," Legolas said. "It is a pleasure to meet you at last."
"Have you brought me more of that candy?" the old lady said. "For it did me great good."
Legolas laughed. "You will have to ask Master Yanâkhim about that. I'm sure it can be arranged." He turned his attention back to the younger woman. "Mistress, I come on behalf of your son," he said, holding a heavy sack out to her.
Legolas had sold his jewels and other gifts in the past two days, turning them into gold coin, such as might not attract undue attention should it be found in the possession of a humble servant. "This is for Miki," he said, as the surprised mother took the bag. "It is enough to buy land, or a shop, or training in a trade. Anything other than he should be forced into the life of a soldier or a bêthnaru to earn his bread. Keep this close and use it wisely." But as Legolas looked into the grateful eyes of Miki's mother, he knew she would.
"My lord . . ."
"Just Maitimo," he corrected gently.
"Maitimo . . . Miki would like to bid you farewell."
Legolas nodded, and the woman called into the interior of her rooms. Miki came out and the two of them went off a short way. Legolas sat down, leaning his back against the baked earth wall of a courtyard, while Miki squatted in the dirt beside him.
"Master Maitimo, are you truly leaving?"
"Yes, Miki, I must. I have a letter to carry to my homeland. And then I have . . . other duties."
"I will miss you," the boy said.
"You will be all right," Legolas said. "You are to serve Princess Nimitha and Lord Azrulbar, I am told. I want you to be good and to be kind to Zori for me."
"I will still miss you, Master."
"And I you, child." Legolas sighed and smiled. "If ever you have need, Miki, just go north to where the men speak the Westron of Gondor, and then turn to the east and continue to where they speak something else. Once there, I promise you that the Grey-elven lord of Ithilien will give you a new life. Do you understand?"
The boy nodded.
"Good," Legolas said, looking into wide brown eyes. "But right now, your mother and your grandmother need you." He rose, brushing the dust from the seat of his trousers. "Run along home now, lad."
As the boy scampered off, Legolas turned and headed for the main gate, his harp slung over his shoulder.
Again, he made his way through dusty streets to the docks, a tall, pale figure among the shorter brown folk, but no longer did he feel himself a stranger, for he loved this land and its people, once his enemies. He felt as if he had come here a boy and was leaving as a man at last; the seduction had been complete.
No herons burst upward from the reeds as the boat carried him downriver. 'It is summer,' he thought, 'and they are making their nests in the north, growing fat on the fish and raising their young. Home, where I am going now.'
This time, as the ship beat its way northward up the coast, Legolas left his bunk and came up on deck, to stare out across the wide waters to the west. He watched all the day, while the sailors sang their songs and trimmed the sails all around him, as the light changed from the misty grey of dawn to the brilliant reds of the sunset. He still felt the call of the sea as a pulling tug in his belly with each roll of the waves, but he had an antidote against it now. Love would be his anchor; love would be his lodestone, binding him to Middle-earth until the last of his mortal friends had departed. Such a short time to tarry, compared to the long eternity that lay before him, and his heart would be the vessel that carried their memory onward into the future. He, Legolas Thranduilion, would be their immortality . . .
To be continued . . .
Nimîr: Adunaic for Elves
Nimru,: Beautiful one, Elf
bêthnaru: courtesan, geisha
bêthnari. : Plural