3. Stranger In A Strange Land
"The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you will find him.
His father's sword he hath girded on,
His wild harp strung behind him.
'Land of songs,' says the warrior bard,
'Though all the world betrays thee,
One sword at last thy rights shall guard;
One faithful harp shall praise thee.'"
Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
Legolas stood on the narrow deck and listened to the song of the oarsmen as the tiny craft made its way up the Harnen. The sea, with its tormenting odor of salt and the cry of the birds lay behind him.
"Are you sure it is wise to go by water?" Aragorn had asked him back when the plan was made for Legolas to take ship to Tolfalas and find passage thence down the coast.
Legolas had shaken his head. "The Harad road is still in disrepair and not safe, even for me. I have heard the gulls already, Aragorn, and the damage is done. It cannot get much worse."
Even so, as the ship that carried him from Harlond had cleared the delta of the Anduin, Legolas had felt the roll of the waves as a tugging in the pit of his belly, calling him west, and he had gone below to lie rigid and staring in his bunk, taking no food or rest until the ship had beat its way down the coast to the mouth of the Harnen. He had staggered ashore, looking like death itself, gaining curious looks from the natives until he had found passage on a boat going upriver.
Some day, he told himself, he would give in to the call of the boundless ocean. But this was not that day.
He understood the language now. It had not been much of a problem, since the folk of Harad spoke a dialect of Westron. Aragorn, who had lived among the Southrons and was versed in their tongue, had managed to school him in the minor differences of speech in less than two weeks.
Those two weeks had been spent in other learning as well. Some of it took place with Barlomi, who had filled him in on the background at Khorlai's court.
"There is little else I can teach you, my friend," Barlomi had said. "You are more than polished in your manners and your person already, so there is nothing I can add. They will love you in Harad, make no mistake. My only fear is that they will love you too much."
"And I will be hard pressed to fend off the attention?" Legolas asked.
"Well, yes, that will be a problem," Barlomi had laughed. "But I meant you might arouse jealousy in others. Make certain you take no food or drink from your fellow bêthnari. Most often it takes the form of a purgative to make you so disgustingly ill that your patron of the evening will have a distaste for you thereafter. But occasions of fatal poisoning are not unheard of."
"I shall be on my guard," Legolas had said. Of course, as the son of a king, Legolas had always been careful of what he ate and drank. He and Thranduil had few known enemies, but better safe than sorry. "How will I know the bêthnari from the courtiers?"
"I think it will be obvious. But if it is not, you will know them by the mark. Have you decided what yours is to be?"
Here had come the first serious drawback, one which had almost made Legolas back out upon learning that it was customary for the bêthnari to mark their skins with a symbol of the ruler they served.
"I fail to see the problem, Legolas," Aragorn had said. "It is just a tattoo. Many of the Gondorians have them, and I have seen that your own father wears one."
Legolas had shaken his head and made no reply. True, his own father bore marks, but Aragorn could not have known the significance of them to a Silvan. Much less the spot where he was being asked to place his own. In the end, after much thought, he had decided to go ahead. The cause was too important to be derailed by his own private scruples.
An artist skilled in such decorations of the body had been found; one discreet enough to hold his tongue. Although Legolas had learned to his surprise, that the Seal of Elessar had become a popular tattoo among the soldiers and captains of Gondor, and the man never batted an eye as he applied the blue ink to the elf's body and pricked it in with a sharp quill. Evidently the man had seen nothing amiss in the idea that the king's brother in arms might wish to wear his symbol, prince in his own right though he might be.
Legolas scratched at it absently. The tattoo was still fresh enough to itch, although to non-elven eyes it looked long healed. Once this was all over, a few minutes alone with his knife, and it would be gone, healing without a scar within a year.
There had been some things that Barlomi might have been able to teach Legolas, had he not been too bashful to ask. Legolas was not innocent about the facts of fleshly love, no elf could be. As a youngster, experiencing the first changes of his body before his coming of age, Legolas had been given the standard instructional scroll for young elves, 'The Great Delight and Joy of Huithad,' to read and absorb.
"And when you have finished," Thranduil had said after handing it to him gruffly, "come to me for the real story." This, he had done, and Thranduil had enlightened him in refreshingly blunt terms. However, Legolas had learned in time that his father had left a few gaps in the education once he got out on patrol for the first time and learned that it was the lot of soldiers to ignore noises in the night, along with what those noises might mean. More reading, this time in secret, had filled in those gaps. The love of Warriors was now within his ken, if not within his practical experience.
And yet, Legolas knew that there still remained some gaps that needed filling, given that mortals could get up to some rather astounding things -- things that might not occur to an elf. This in mind, he had betaken himself to the Great Library of Gondor, calmly stating his request to the bemused librarian. He had been escorted deep into the archives and left alone for a time with certain scrolls usually left under lock and key.
He had emerged several hours later, paler than usual and walking rather stiffly, with the realization that he owed Aragorn an apology. It was indeed possible to shock an elf. However, forewarned is forearmed, and Legolas now felt ready to venture into the world of the bêthnari with his amatory arsenal complete.
A burst of blue startled Legolas from his reverie, as a heron took flight from a clump of rushes at the riverbank. He smiled in old memory. So this was where they came! He remembered a time, almost a century gone, asking a young Aragorn to discover where the herons went in winter and to bring him back the report of it. And now he was seeing the land for himself. Would the very stars be strange when night fell? Legolas made himself a promise to look.
And Aragorn! How he had changed from the young, lovesick lad of twenty who had shared a skin of wine and a night of star gazing with Legolas so long ago, speculating on the migration of birds to far off lands. Friendship with mortals drove home the passage of time in a way most elves did not ever appreciate.
The last time he had seen Aragorn's face it had been grim, as the king and his family had bade Legolas farewell at the docks at Harlond. "Le hannon, my friend," Aragorn had said. "Had there been any other way, I would not have asked this of you."
Legolas had laughed. "You are most welcome, but perhaps you should save your gratitude for my return. Until then, Estel, do not worry about me. I can take care of myself."
Arwen had stepped forward then. "Give us leave, will you my love? This time, I would be the one to speak to our friend in private." Aragorn had nodded and wandered off to stare nobly out over the flowing waters of the Anduin.
"Legolas, are you quite sure of this?"
"As sure as I can be, under the circumstances."
She frowned. He had almost laughed then, for she had looked quite the spitting image of Elrond at his most vexed. "I am not. Great king of men though Aragorn may be, he is not an elf. He has no idea what he asks of you. Nor do you have any idea of what you will face, young Thranduilion."
"Kindly resist the temptation to behave as if you are my naneth, Arwen," he had said. "You may be my elder by many ennin, but I am no innocent. Have I not been able to elude the romantic snares of all of your ladies in waiting -- and a fair share of the lords as well?"
Her brows knitted further. "That may not prove to be so easy while proclaiming yourself to be had for a price and wearing my husband's mark upon your breast. I fear for you, Legolas."
He had let his voice go quiet then. "As do I. But how can I not, given what is at stake for Gondor, and my own land as well?" He smiled and dropped his eyes to Arwen's swelling waist. "Think of this as an early Begetting Day gift. That this little one may never have to know the horrors of war."
He kissed her lightly on the tip of her nose and went up the gangplank. At the top he turned and raised a hand in farewell to both of them, for Aragorn had rejoined his queen. "I feel so naked without my bow!" he had said with a parting grin.
And naked he felt now, although he bore the weight of a harp slung across his back in its place. He carried no weapon other than a small knife at his belt, but Legolas rested secure in the knowledge that one Mirkwood warrior, barehanded, was more deadly than a fully armed Southron on a Mûmak.
Only one more question nagged at his mind. He needed a name, for he could hardly march into Khorlai's palace and announce himself as Legolas Thranduilion, harlot at large. So far none had presented itself. Failing some final insight, he intended to call himself Galion, son of merriment, although he hated to do so, for his father's long-suffering butler deserved better than that, having already more than his share of tribulations in life.
The riverboat bumped against the quayside. Legolas found himself in a city of mud bricks and white stone, past which the sluggish waters of the Harnen flowed. He stepped up onto the stone dock, squinting in the bright light. He understood the practicality of kohl now, for even with the hood of his cloak up, the reflection of his own fair cheeks was near to blinding him in the relentless sun. His lips felt parched as well in the dry heat, and he thought he might be painting them before long.
He strode though the dusty streets, a tall figure among the shorter brown-skinned folk, smiling serenely at the curious stares of dark eyes, and pausing once or twice to ask directions. At the doors of the most imposing structure in the town, he showed his letter, bearing the seal of Gondor, to the guards and was granted admittance after being patted down most thoroughly and relieved of his knife.
The exteriors of the buildings in this strange land had seemed bleak, but the marble halls through which he was led were dark and cool, inlaid with designs of colored stones. Legolas passed through courtyards filled with lush greenery, in which fountains plashed, giving soothing music to the ear and lending moisture to the air. At last he found himself before carven doors of dark wood overlaid with bands of shining copper, and he entered the audience hall.
At the far end of the chamber, on a raised dais, sat Khorlai himself. Legolas threw back his hood and approached confidently, noting the dilation of the king's dark pupils as he looked him over. The ruler of Harad was a well made man, above middle age and well above middle height, with dark skin and black hair twisted into a myriad of tiny braids held by golden beads.
In that moment, Legolas had a blinding flash of inspiration. It would be perfect; a name both describing himself and dealing some well deserved retribution upon those who had slain his kin. As his father was fond of saying, revenge was a dish best enjoyed cold. He took a deep breath for courage.
Khorlai looked down his hawk-like nose. "You are from Gondor? Have I not said repeatedly that I will have none of Gondor's ambassadors in my land?"
"I am no ambassador," said Legolas, sweeping back his cloak to reveal his bare chest, where the seal of Gondor's new king, an eagle clutching a bright jewel in its talon, was tattooed above his heart. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head. "My lord, I am Maitimo . . . Courtesan to the House of Elessar Telcontar."
To be continued . . .
Huithad: Sindarin for the marital act, lovemaking.
ennin: Long-years, the Sindarin equivalent of yeni, 144 years.
bêthnari: Plural of bêthnaru, the courtesans.
Maitimo: Quenya for 'Well-made,' the nickname of Maedhros, eldest and handsomest son of Feanor.
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.