2. A Scandal Has Wings
Hísimë [November] Third Age 3020
Rowanna groaned as she finished perusing the letter which had just arrived at the Elves' encampment in Ithilien, courtesy of one of the King's errand-riders.
"Is it such a terrible idea?" Legolas, balanced cross-legged on a branch of the great cedar which housed their newly-built talan, raised an eyebrow.
"A ball at the Citadel for mettarë? Endless crowds of pompous Gondorian nobility as starched as their shirts, all overheated and gossiping?" Rowanna rolled her eyes. "You hate those balls! You avoided as many as you could after the Coronation, when people on the Fifth Circle were throwing them every night with some deluded idea of ingratiating themselves with the new King..."
"An endless procession of them rapidly lost its appeal, true," the Elf replied. "But once a sun-round or so I think I can endure! And you love to dance, and I love to dance with you..."
"I don't know half the Gondorian court dances," Rowanna protested. "Gavottes and reels aren't so different from the country dances of the Mark, I grant you, but those minuets and sarabandes and things –"
"Half the dances should be enough, surely?" Legolas teased. "Besides, Faramir knows them all – we're invited to Emyn Arnen for dinner next full moon in any case; he can teach you any that you don't know. What's more you will be with me, and I have been dancing for an Age – do you truly think any steps Gondor's nobility come up with are going to defeat us?"
"Dancing with Wood-Elves in a clearing under the stars, when no-one is thinking about what impression they are making nor cares if I am in breeches and an old shirt with hay in my hair, is very different from this!" Rowanna slapped the parchment indignantly. "You know what it will be like! Endless society matrons frowning because I won't lace myself into a corset so tight I can hardly breathe, or wear impossible shoes I can't walk let alone dance in, or braid my hair with so many jewels I look like a walking Nauglamír –" She broke off in exasperation as her lover threw back his head and laughed. "It's not funny!"
"Oh, beloved." Legolas dropped gracefully from the branch on to the talan and drew her down to sit beside him. "You do not truly care what any of them think, do you? Not when those who stare down their noses are bound to look completely ridiculous themselves in their quest to outdo one another – and when the Evenstar will outshine them all in the simplest of gowns? I promise you shall have a dress you will love – perhaps even Elven-made. And you will hardly lack for allies – Aragorn as well as Arwen will be there, and Faramir and Éowyn, and your mother –"
"And Adramir and his wife," Rowanna exclaimed in horror. "At least Adra and I can hide in a corner and console each other about how dreadful it is – he dislikes balls almost as much as I do, I think – but Ithildîs! From what Mother says she still hasn't got over her vapours on discovering that you and I –" She broke off.
"That we threaten to scandalise all Minas Tirith because we are together without any marriage-ceremony?" Legolas' sparkling eyes suddenly clouded. "Is that what troubles you, melethen? That the respectable ladies of Gondor will cloak their jealousy at your skills and your freedom and the esteem in which King and Steward hold you, by looking askance because you wear no wedding-ring?" He sighed. "If it matters so, rohiril, I will happily give you a ring..."
"No!" Rowanna flared up. "We agreed, Legolas – we would not lay claim to any marriage that we have not made. I know if we were both Firstborn our binding would have wed us for eternity; but when I die –" she gulped, but went on – "I will leave you forever. How can I wear an Elven ring? And if we were both Mortal, we would be pledged till death us do part – but how could I ask you to make a vow which the Sea might force you to forswear? Aragorn and Arwen themselves owned that while they never saw a truer bond than ours in all Arda, they had no idea what to call it. Our love is what it is, and if I do not have the respect of the White City for what I am then I will not win it by pretending to a falsehood –"
"Peace, my love, peace!" He caught her gesturing hands, brought them to his lips and kissed them. "I would never so insult you. We are, indeed, what we are. And I do not believe that what you are is afraid of milady Ithildîs, or any of her kind. Indeed – " his eyes danced with mischief – "this might be an excellent opportunity to tease the good lady just a little..."
"That's a thought." Rowanna grinned back at him. "On one condition – while I endure, you endure. If I find half-way through the evening that you have escaped through a window and gone to hide in a tree –"
"You have my word," the Elf assured her solemnly. "Agreed, then – I'll reply to Aragorn's Master of Ceremonies that Prince Legolas of Ithilien and the Lady Rowanna of Dôr Ararych are delighted to accept the King's invitation!"
"It's beautiful!" Rowanna reverently lifted the dress from its linen wrappings and held it up in the winter sunlight streaming through the window of her small cabin. "But there can't possibly have been time to send to the Greenwood! How on earth did you –"
"Not to Father's realm – but to East Lórien, where a goodly number of Lord Celeborn's folk have already decamped, yes. I have a confession to make –" Legolas looked sidelong at her. "I had knowledge of Aragorn's plans to hold a mettarë ball some weeks before the invitation arrived..."
"You – you maddening Elf!" She swiped at him in mock-outrage; he ducked with ease, chuckling. "And how precisely did you know I would agree to go?"
"I had faith in my powers of persuasion," Legolas retorted. "Besides, even if you refused – and you know, melethen, that I would never insist if you truly did not wish to – did I not tell you months ago how well wine-red velvet would become you?" He arched an eyebrow; Rowanna, remembering in just what circumstances he had expressed the desire to see her in red velvet, felt herself flushing with pleasure.
"It's so light..." she murmured, running her fingers over the fabric.
"Silk velvet," Legolas pointed out, "made from the finest Greenwood spider-thread."
"And the colour - just like the velvet dress I had in Rivendell..."
"I remember," Legolas agreed. "The one you were wearing the night we met." He leaned in and trailed his lips down her throat to the opening of her shirt. "Put it on..."
Rowanna laughed. "Not here in front of the window – if Malgalad happens to come by he'll die of shock!" She disappeared into her tiny bedroom; when she emerged a few minutes later Legolas smiled at the surprised delight he could feel radiating from her.
"It's perfect," she said, wonderingly, turning slowly to feel the skirts swirl around her and watching the long sleeves float as she moved. "No dreadful boning in the bodice or tight lacing –"
"What need, when it was made to fit you like a glove?" Legolas smiled. "I want to dance at Aragorn's ball with you, rohiril, not with a creature moulded into a shape I barely recognise by the demands of Mortal fashion! I know how you always claim to dislike formal dress – but I thought an Elven gown might be a different matter."
"How could it be made such an exact fit? None of the Elves back in the Greenwood have even seen me."
"But some of the Galadhrim now in East Lórien did see you when they rode to Minas Tirith in Arwen's train; and I gave the seamstresses very precise measurements," he murmured in her ear. "Just as I said, wine-red is the perfect colour – you look beautiful. As glorious as a brethilgaer in her autumn finery. And since you are so pleased with it, lover mine, I suggest you take it off in short order – after all," he pulled her into his arms, "it would never do to crease it..."
Rowanna drew her feet up under her, curling comfortably into a well-padded armchair by the fire in her mother's parlour. She and Legolas had arrived in the City, with Taurlaegel and a few more of the Elves curious to experience a Mortal mettarë, in the early afternoon; Legolas had gone up to see his folk welcomed to their quarters in the Citadel, intending to come back down to the Rath Míriel in time to escort Rowanna and her mother to the ball.
"So what did Ithildîs have to say?" Míranna enquired as she sipped her tisane. "She hasn't seen you since the news came from Ithilien that you and Legolas are joined..."
"Remarkably little," grinned Rowanna, "though she looked as stiff as dried-out leather. She clearly couldn't work out whether to congratulate me or chastise me, so she did neither, and forced out some commonplace about the pleasure of welcoming me. Mind you, when she offered me hot water for a bath, she couldn't resist a remark about how I presumably had little opportunity for such 'out there in the wilds of Ithilien'! She might as well have told me to my face that I smell of horse..."
"Well, you need have no fear that she'll behave so to Legolas," Míranna chuckled. "You should have seen her when you both accepted my invitation to stay here; getting all the best plate and glassware polished up and wondering whether the tapestries were arranged to best advantage! What's really making her so sour, of course, is the social dilemma you two have placed her in – she can't work out just how to capitalise among her acquaintance on the notion that she is now almost related to an Elf, and the royal family of Mirkwood at that, without tripping over the difficulty that you are not married in any way that Men would recognise, and apparently have no intention of becoming so, nor of presiding over a glittering Elven kingdom, or enriching yourself or your extended family thereby. Let alone the lack of a grand society wedding at which she could have gloried in her position before the nobility of half Gondor..."
"Even had there been any way we could marry, she was certainly never going to get one of those!" Rowanna shuddered at the thought. She took a slow sip of her herb tea, and asked,
"Do you mind, Mother?"
"That you and Legolas cannot be wed?" Her mother shook her head. "You know me, daughter – if I had cared a jot for convention, you and I would have returned dutifully to Minas Tirith after your father died in Rohan, for me to be married off again to the next appropriate suitor! What's in your heart matters far more to me than what is, or is not, on your ring finger – and anyone with eyes can see your heart is given utterly to Legolas, and his to you. What I mind is the thought of either of you, one day, bereft of the other, never to be reunited even beyond the Circles of the World..."
"I know." Rowanna sighed. "And you know that gave us both such pause that it nearly drove us apart forever. But in the end... we both realised that our hearts were given already, each only to be mended by the other; that if we must ultimately be parted, better to be so with the memory of joy fulfilled, however briefly." She reached over to squeeze her mother's hand. "Don't worry, Mother. I promise you, with all my heart – it is worth it. And Legolas would say the same."
Some hours later, well wrapped up in cloaks and furs, Míranna and Ithildîs were handed into a litter for the short journey up to the Citadel; Rowanna, scorning the whole idea, insisted on going on foot with Legolas and Adramir, "for at least I have shoes I can walk in!" she pointed out.
"And there is no danger of that dress dragging in the dirt," Ithildîs commented before the litter's curtains were drawn. "I'm sorry no-one thought to tell you, dear, that trains are being worn this winter..."
Unwilling to vent her feelings as fully as she might have liked in front of Adramir, Rowanna grimaced instead at Legolas, who gazed deadpan back at her. "I am sure we will find," he observed, "that not having constantly to stop and pin up a train for dancing will more than outweigh any concerns about missing out on the very peak of the season's style." Unable to maintain her irritation, she chuckled instead as the three of them, with Adramir's manservant and Líriel the maid to attend them, wove their way up to the Sixth Circle and through the Court of the Fountain to the entrance of the White Tower.
With Líriel's assistance Rowanna divested herself of her cloak in an ante-room; she needed no help to adjust the Elven gown, which fell perfectly into place. "It's beautiful, mistress," exclaimed the maid, whose eyes had been like saucers at the sight of Legolas, in his dark green tunic embroidered with silver, his golden hair falling unbraided down his back. "And you look lovely. A fit companion for any Elven-prince!"
The Elf-prince in question turned from handing his own cloak to a footman and smiled. "That she is, Líriel, and I am honoured beyond measure to be escorting her. Brennilen, shall we go?" Making his most courtly bow, he offered her his arm and they fell into the line of guests processing towards the ballroom.
"You're on your best behaviour!" Rowanna murmured into his ear, amused. He chuckled.
"I told you – I intend to enjoy this evening! And if you wish for victory over Ithildîs and her ilk, then we must play them at their own game..." He said no more, but arched an eyebrow, and she felt the mischief bubbling up within. All right! she thought in response, and he grinned.
She had a bad moment on the threshold; oh, no. I hadn't thought – The ball, it turned out, was being held in the great feasting-hall of Merethrond; and the last time we were in there, the Lay of Leithian came down on us like the stroke of doom, and I thought I had lost you forever, and I ran -
Fear not, melethen. She felt the wave of reassurance from Legolas as he drew her a little closer to him. "That was a terrible night," he whispered, "but the time has come to overlay those memories with happier ones! Come!" She took a deep breath, and they stepped together into the hall.
Merethrond glittered in the light of a thousand candles; mettarë garlands of evergreens and silver ribbon hung both from the pillars, and across the musicians' gallery above the dais at the far end of the hall. The dancing had not yet begun; the hundreds of guests were milling around, being handed drinks by numerous footmen and, as Rowanna had predicted, gossiping:
"...so odd to have no receiving-line – these informal Elven ways, I suppose – but how is one to be assured of a moment with the King or the Queen? – have you seen them anywhere?"
"Queen Arwen's there, look, in the grey – such an odd colour for a ballgown, though of course she looks exquisite..."
Rowanna made a face and dragged Legolas towards the nearest footman. " Come on; I need a drink!"
As they thanked the serving-man for their goblets of spiced wine they became aware of a rustle and a murmur behind them, and turned to see Aragorn's dark head above the hastily parting crowd; nodding briefly to the bowing and scraping throng, he strode up to Legolas and Rowanna and embraced them before Rowanna could begin to remember how to sink into a curtsey.
"Mae govannen, mellyn nin, a mettarë mereth!" he greeted them warmly. "Lenn maer od Ithilien?"
They assured him that their journey had, indeed, been uneventful; then talked, still in the Grey Tongue, of the progress of Faramir's stud farm at Dôr Ararych and of Legolas' survey of the orc-damaged lands further east. Rowanna was conscious all the time of the whispering of the curious crowds around them; just when she was not sure she could bear any more scrutiny, the musicians' gentle ripples of melody changed to a far more lively refrain, and the King smiled.
"Time, I think, for the first dance! Your pardon, my friends; for this set Arwen and I are spoken for with Lord Húrin and his lady, and various others – but join us for the second, if you will!" He bowed hand on heart to Rowanna, who by now was ready with her deepest curtsey, and made his way to the head of the hall in search of his Queen.
Some hours of dancing, eating, drinking and conversation later, Legolas drew Rowanna aside as a gavotte finished, into an alcove away from the crowds.
"How fare you, my love?"
"Better than I expected," she admitted. " You were right – it is wonderful to dance together! I found a few interesting people, too – there's a niece of Lord Húrin, a lass who must be sixteen or so, who's chafing at being squeezed into corsets and having pins stuck in her hair, and who's clearly horse-mad; she was intrigued to discover that one can be a woman and run a stud farm! I must ask Aragorn to talk to Húrin about her. And it's good to see Faramir and Éowyn – she has the perfect excuse not to be on her feet any more than she wishes, of course..."
Éowyn, heavily pregnant, was seated in another alcove across the hall, and Rowanna had spent a good half hour absenting herself from the dancing on the pretext of keeping the White Lady company. "Since she finds the stiffer element of high Minas Tirith society almost as ridiculous as I, we had a good deal to talk of!"
"Is it truly so trying?" Legolas frowned.
"Well, does it not drive you mad?" Rowanna retorted. "I've seen at least three countesses and a duchess trying to manoeuvre you into dancing with their daughters this evening –"
"And I am delighted to do so," the Elf assured her. "Provided they understand that I am dancing and no more!"
"But they don't, that's just it," Rowanna groaned. "They saw us enter arm-in-arm, and yet – they see no ring on your finger, nor on mine, and see me neither with my hair down like one of the unmarried girls nor in one of those jewelled nets the matrons all wear, and know not what to make of us. You didn't hear the gossip I caught after we got separated in the supper-queue, while you were talking to Faramir – you are the fairest thing any of the maidens have ever seen, and your father's halls are rumoured to be stuffed with treasure from Smaug's lair; half the women in this hall are swooning for you and half the men are wishing they could run you through!"
Legolas threw back his head and laughed, the candlelight dancing on his gleaming hair.
"And you really don't want to know," Rowanna finished with a sigh, "what they, especially Ithildîs's circle, think of me..."
At that he snapped to attention, ice in his expression.
"Mortal ideas of honour mystify me, rohiril, as well you know," he said, dangerously soft, "but such notions matter here, and thus here they matter to me. Tell me..."
"Oh, nothing said in terms to my face, of course – Powers forbid they should be so crude as that! The veiled comments about a horse-breeder's hands, or how healthy – meaning sunburnt – I look, I don't mind; I've chosen a life most noble women consider downright eccentric, that I know. But making mock of you being with me... pointedly inspecting my bare fingers whenever anyone bows or curtseys over my hand; one friend of Ithildîs's announced terribly sweetly that she'd heard I was your gwedhanten, and could I explain to her just what that meant? She was most disappointed when instead of rising to the bait, I suggested she take the trouble to study a little Sindarin and then she'd know..."
Legolas' blue eyes glittered. Before he could reply, however, Aragorn's major-domo banged his staff on the dais to announce the final dance of the evening, a minuet.
"Come," the Elf urged, holding out his hand to Rowanna. When she grimaced he added, "Fear not, beloved – I have an idea...."
Slipping easily through the throng, drawing her in his wake, Legolas arrived below the dais where the King and Queen were preparing to head the top set; Aragorn and Arwen welcomed them with a pleasure which earned the Elf and the mortal woman a number of envious glances.
As they joined their right hands and stepped in a stately circle around each other, Legolas murmured to Rowanna:
"As I said, melethen, I have an idea. Since it appears the maidens and matrons of Minas Tirith are lost to all sense and reason and incapable of taking subtle hints, I fear there is nothing for it but to show them in terms they will understand. Are you prepared to make a scandal?"
His eyes danced wickedly at her. They circled back:
"What did you have in mind?"
He leant in closer and whispered in her ear, finishing just as the dance required him to return her to her place and step back; she grinned and nodded vigorously – then frowned, and tilted her head towards Aragorn and Arwen at the top of the set. He gave the smallest nod in response; a minute later, the elaborate pattern took him diagonally across the set to circle with Arwen, and he murmured to her also. Arwen hastily checked a burst of laughter and smiled delightedly at them both. Moments later, the equivalent steps brought Rowanna into Aragorn's firm hold.
"Legolas and I have a favour to ask of you and the Queen, Sire," she began in the Grey Tongue, "to help us out of a dilemma in which we find ourselves..."
He quirked an eyebrow at her as they circled. "Speak it, lady."
She murmured to him as Legolas had to Arwen; less restrained than his Queen, the King roared with laughter. "So be it, cousin! You have my good will!" As the rest of the set rustled with curiosity, he returned her punctiliously to her place and sketched her a bow.
The dance wound its stately way towards its close; as it concluded with a flourish from the musicians up in the gallery, each dancer turned and bowed or curtseyed, first to those on either side, and finally to their own partner. Rowanna swept Legolas the deepest and most graceful curtsey she had ever managed in her life; he bowed low to her, hand on heart – then drew her to her feet, into his arms, and, passionately, kissed her.
And kissed her...
And kissed her.
She heard the shocked gasps, first from the rest of their set, then spreading outwards through the hall as with nudgings and murmurings the news flew like wildfire; her heart soared, and she felt Legolas' answering surge of delight. Indeed, my lords and ladies of Gondor – spread the word. Legolas is mine, and I am his, and here and now we declare our love without shame. Make of it whatever you will!
At last they broke apart, eyes sparkling; then turned to face Aragorn and Arwen, who had watched the whole scene and were smiling broadly. Legolas and Rowanna made their reverence once again; the King and Queen stepped forward and embraced them. Aragorn signalled to the musicians, who struck up once more, and the stunned silence in the Hall of Feasts exploded into chatter as all four – Aragorn conspicuously arm-in-arm with Rowanna and Legolas with Arwen – left the set and made their way across to Éowyn's alcove. They said their goodnights to the White Lady and the Steward; Faramir pointedly clasped arms with Legolas, bowed low to Rowanna and kissed her hand as they made their farewells. The final touches were put to Rowanna's satisfaction by the sight, discreetly pointed out to her by Legolas, of Ithildîs watching them go and looking horrified, envious and utterly thunderstruck all at once.
"I'm glad Aragorn and Arwen were not offended," Rowanna admitted with relief. "Not for the world would I have caused them any embarrassment. Unlike Ithildîs - did you see her face?"
Much later – after partaking of a final glass of Dorwinion in the private royal chambers with Aragorn, Arwen and a highly amused Faramir – they were wandering back down to the Rath Míriel unaccompanied, cloaked against the cold and arms tightly wound about each other's waists.
"She'll never speak to me again," Rowanna observed happily. "Promise me you won't go down to breakfast before me in the morning – I must see her expression when she tries to work out what to say to you!"
"How ungenerous of you, rohiril," Legolas teased. "Though I freely admit, if anyone deserves to be discomfited after the way she and her coterie behaved to you this evening, 'tis Lady Ithildîs! What in Elbereth's name makes her so joyless?"
"I think she was born so," Rowanna sighed. "Though Mother says she is even further soured by feeling she cannot profit from her new-forged connection to Eryn Lasgalen's royalty..."
"That line of advance I sincerely hope we have cut off for good," Legolas protested. "Profit from me – what am I, one of Gimli's mines?"
This idea reduced Rowanna to helpless giggles. "It's just as well Gimli wasn't here tonight," she gasped when she could speak. "His Dwarven sense of propriety would have been much offended..."
"So would his care for his friends, at the disdain being so-subtly directed at us," the Elf pointed out. "He would have understood the need for desperate measures!"
"Desperate indeed," Rowanna observed dryly, "being forced to embrace in public! Do you think it worked?"
"A good question," Legolas mused. "But just to make sure, melethen – perhaps we should do it again..."
"Mmmm. There's an idea."
They halted on the corner of the Rath Míriel.
"Not very. But perhaps, for now, it will do..."
They pulled each other close, and kissed again long and deeply under the brilliant midwinter stars. Worth it, indeed.
talan – platform for sleeping or living in trees, as used by the Lothlórien Elves and, in my fic, adopted by Legolas' Ithilien colony.
mettarë – New Year's Eve: for the Elves, a spring festival, but for the Dúnedain, celebrated on the winter solstice.
brethilgaer – copper beech
rohiril – horse-lady (one of Legolas' nicknames for Rowanna, originally coined by Elrohir)
melethen – my love
brennilen – milady
"Mae govannen, mellyn nin, a mettarë mereth! Lenn maer od Ithilien?" - "Well met, my friends, and happy New Year's Eve! A good journey from Ithilien?"
gwedhanten – lit. "bound one"; bond-mate, one who is 'bound' in the Elven sense to a life-partner. (The verb is Tolkien's but as far as I know I'm inventing this particular usage of it.)
This story was at least partially inspired by curiouswombat's hilarious short fic The Right Kind of Shield, in which Legolas needs protection from very much the same sort of harassment from over-keen mortal matrons as in this piece...
And the title comes from a quotation from Thomas Fuller: "A lie has no leg, but a scandal has wings."