4. The Cheek of Night
"Beauty too rich for use; for earth too dear . . . "
Wm Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
"Sing us a song, beautiful one!"
"Yes, sing for us, Maitimo!"
From his seat at the low table, Legolas could hear the voices of the courtiers encouraging him, urging him on. He felt like a fish out of water. The food was strange. The manner of dress was strange, with its loose, revealing silks and bright colors. Burning incense in brazen censers made the very scent of the air he breathed alien to him.
And, he felt chagrined to admit, he was unused to looking up at the king rather than sitting beside him. Rank had never meant much to him before, or so he thought. But that had been in the days when he divested himself of it voluntarily, becoming just another Mirkwood soldier out on patrol, or an equal member of the Fellowship, taking no high airs as he hob-nobbed with gentlemen farmers and gardeners' sons. He now realized that his royalty had always served as armor to him, had he wished to invoke it, and he rather wished he had that protection available to him now.
Dinner had ended and the dishes had been cleared away, but the wine still flowed. It was good wine, and Legolas had drunk quite a lot of it, yet not enough to rid himself of his nervousness.
"Yes, Maitimo. From the days of my youth I have heard tales of the haunting beauty of the voices of the Nimîr. I am eager to hear for myself whether or not it was exaggeration." Khorlai's voice rang deep and confident.
With a command from the king, the matter was settled. Knowing that entertainment would be expected of him, Legolas had brought his harp along to dinner, and it leaned against his leg beneath the table like a faithful hound. He picked it up and went out to the center of the room, where servants had brought a stool. He bowed to the king and the assembled nobles, and seated himself.
Here came another dilemma, for although he knew many elvish songs, Legolas realized that he could not expect to win over this crowd with a rendition of A Elbereth Gilthoniel, or even the Lay of Nimrodel. Most of the Mannish songs he knew had been learned in Laketown and were rather coarse. He hesitated to sing them, at least until he had gained a better grasp of the moral tenor of Khorlai's court.
He had an idea; a song he had gifted to Aragorn back in the days his ranger friend had been courting Arwen. It had been pleasure for Legolas to write, for he too had been struck by Arwen's charm, ever since his first sight of her as an elven youth of ninety-two, and a paean to her beauty came easily to him. Aragorn had been delighted to sing it, and Arwen had been equally delighted to hear it. It had been just the thing for a smitten Dúnadan to sing to his unattainable betrothed, and it seemed just the thing now. Legolas cleared his throat and struck the first chord.
"Black is the color of my true love's hair.
Her lips are something wondrous fair.
The clearest eye and the softest hand.
I love the ground whereon she stands.
Black is the color . . . "
Khorlai nodded and smiled gravely. Evidently he found the tales of elven voices to be no disappointment. To the king's left sat a lady of mature years, although as yet very lovely. Barlomi had told Legolas that Khorlai had suffered the loss of his queen early, so this could not be his wife. And indeed the two of them were so alike in looks as to be two sides of the same coin. She had his same dark hair and his regal nose, although her features had a more delicate cast. Sister then, Legolas supposed. Her dark eyes were fixed on him, the pupils expanding into black pools.
Legolas cast this lady a smile and launched into the next verse. This one was more recent, having been written at Arwen's request upon the occasion of the fourth anniversary of her marriage to Aragorn. Legolas often wondered if the two of them sang it to each other in private before getting down to other business. If that were so, judging from recent developments, it seemed to have worked.
"Black is the color of my true love's hair.
His face is something wondrous fair.
The keenest eye and the strongest hand.
I love the ground whereon he stands.
Black is the color . . . "
On the king's right sat another lady, this one no more than a girl. She had Khorlai's dark hair and eyes. Daughter? Legolas thought so. This young lady's eyes rested not upon Legolas, strangely enough. They were trained in the direction of one of the lower tables.
"I go to the river for to mourn and weep.
The time is past, yet faith I keep.
And still I hope the time will come
When you and I may be as one.
Black is the color . . . "
Legolas followed the line of the princess's sight. A young man sat among the junior gentlemen of the court, returning the princess's gaze with one of carefully concealed longing. Hmm. Legolas found this very interesting. This young man quickly broke his stare at a glance from another man at the king's table. This last man was dressed in fine robes, almost as splendid as those of the king, and he wore a chain of office about his neck. What did they call them here, Legolas wondered. Vizier? Prime Minister? Whatever he was, this was a man of some power, and used to wielding it from the haughty look on his face. A large ruby, set in gold hung from one ear, and it lay sparkling richly against the dark skin of the man's cheek.
"I love my love and well he knows.
I love the ground whereon he goes,
And if my love no more should I see
My life would surely fade away.
Black is the color of my true love's hair."
As the room burst into applause, Legolas realized too late that either because of the wine or his unfamiliarity with the language, he had forgotten himself and sung 'he' in the last verse rather than the 'she' he had intended. Which gave the song some interesting nuances that had not gone unnoticed by several in the audience. The Vizier was staring at Legolas the way a hungry warg examines a joint of venison. And to his great unease, Legolas saw Khorlai himself eyeing him with an enigmatic smile.
Chiding himself for a great idiot, Legolas did the only thing he could do. He smiled and bowed gracefully.
"The tale-tellers did not lie, Nimru," Khorlai said. "Come, sit beside me. I would know if that tongue of yours is as great a delight in conversation as it is at the singing of songs. Kindly make room for Master Maitimo, Zamin."
"With pleasure, my brother," said the graceful lady to Khorlai's left. She moved slightly aside, as servants brought a chair and placed it between the two of them. She did not make very much room, and Legolas found himself pressed tightly on either side when he sat down.
From his spot on the dais, Legolas looked down at the low table he had recently vacated. His former dinner companions, mostly young men in silks more brightly colored and more revealing than the rest, looked daggers upon him with heavily kohled eyes. He made a mental note to himself to accept no gifts of food from anyone for the next fortnight.
Under the table, Legolas felt a leg press against his right knee. He struggled to maintain his composure as a delicate hand landed on his left thigh. 'Flirt with the sister, she is your better choice for safety,' Legolas told himself desperately, while continuing to answer Khorlai's polite questions.
He turned to her with his most blinding flash of charm, saying, "And what does the lady Zamin have to say?"
Legolas Thranduilion had really put his foot in it this time.
It was well past the midnight hour when Legolas came through the door of the quarters assigned to him earlier in the day by Khorlai's seneschal. "Wake up, Miki, and go home to your mother. I will not be needing you any more tonight," he told the young body-servant he had been given along with the rooms.
The boy stirred, still muzzy from sleep and shook his dark curls. "Would you not have me light the lamp, Master?"
Legolas shook his head. "No, I have no need of a light." The night sky held only a sickle moon, but the faint glow that filtered in through the grilled windows was sufficient for elven eyes.
"Shall I help you undress, then? Put away your clothes?"
"No, Miki, your mother must be worrying about you."
"Mama says she worries about me less when I am serving one of the bêthnari than if I would be assigned to a noble like Master Huzun. I asked her why, and she would not tell me, but Grandmama says it is because you bêthnari are too tired. I still did not understand."
Legolas made a face in the darkness. "And may you never. Go home, lad, and tell your mother that Master Maitimo promises you will be home every night."
When the boy had left, Legolas went into the bedchamber and stripped off his shirt, which was full with the aroma of the incense and wet with his own nervous sweat. The air felt good on his bare skin, for the night was warm.
His apartments were luxurious, consisting of a sitting room, a bedchamber, and a separate smaller room for washing and performing the toilet. Legolas doubted that all in the palace were housed so well, and he understood that Barlomi had spoken true when he reported himself to be a man of position and respect in this land. The quarters had even a small private courtyard attached, where a tiny garden flourished.
Legolas stepped outside now, taking in the rich scents of the night-blooming flowers. He sat down on the bench and looked up into the night sky. It was true; the stars were strange in this land. The constellations Legolas was used to seeing in the far south -- Menelvagor, with his faithful companion Telumendil-- were all directly overhead. Eärendil, shone brightly as ever, but much to the north. The Valacirca had disappeared entirely below the northern horizon, although Legolas could still make out Tingilinde, the star about which the heavens wheeled and could always be trusted to show the way north. There were new constellations as well. Legolas did not know what the Haradrim called the formation that looked like a great crossroads in the sky, but to him it resembled the hilt of a sword. In his own mind, he now named it Orcrist, and it reminded him of a small part of his home.
The grandeur of the heavens moved his heart. Keeping his voice low to not awake the mortals, Legolas leaned back on his elbows and began to sing a song of self-comfort in the night. "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, silivren penna miriel . . ."
From off in the distance came the haunting cry of a peacock, answering the lone elven voice.
To be continued . . .
Author's Notes: Forgive me for the conceit that Legolas was the composer of the old folk song, 'Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair,' but it seemed to work well for the purposes of this story. And indeed, who is to say that our prince of Eryn Lasgalen was not that most prolific of authors, 'Anonymous?'
Translations from Adunaic:
Nimru: beautiful one; elf.
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.