9. Strange Woods
"There, by a most incestuous birth,
Strange woods spring from the teeming earth;"
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
Legolas lay stretched out alongside Zamin, naked by the lady's request, for lately it had become her pleasure to both see and feel his body. By a miracle, he was not yet hard, but he knew that would soon change. These sessions were becoming so frustrating as to be painful for him.
Idly, he traced with his forefinger the rippling shadows cast on her nude form by the afternoon sunlight coming in through the door grille. They had progressed to touching; the dog whip had long since disappeared from her nightstand, unused and unneeded, the peacock feather returned to its vase. Her arms and legs remained free as well, that she might toy with him as had become her wont.
"That tickles, Maitimo," she laughed, as he ran his finger down a long shadow on her flank.
"I will do more than tickle by the time I am through," he replied.
"Tell me, Maitimo," she said throatily, "what will you do? What would you do to me if you could?"
"If I could?" said Legolas, giving the remark all the portent it deserved.
She nodded and smiled, running her hand through his hair. "Pleasure me with that clever tongue of yours, Word-man."
He grinned back at her with a practiced lasciviousness that was not entirely false, and bent to lick the outer ridge of her ear. "If I could have my will of you, Zamin," he whispered, "I would start by telling you how very beautiful you are to me. And then I would kiss you, thus."
Her lips parted for him, and he felt the familiar madness of being with a woman begin to build. Just as he let the battle fever carry him through combat, he gave in to the carnal instinct and let it sweep him along now. He left her lips and trailed his kisses down her neck and breast. He found a nipple and rolled the nub of flesh between his lips, circling with his tongue. She gasped as he drew away and whispered into her ear again.
"And when I had you writhing, I would throw myself upon you and take you, harder and deeper than any man has taken you before, or ever will again. I would make you scream my name, Zamin. I would make you mine."
"Please, Maitimo . . . please," she whispered.
"Are you sure?" He had grown hard, swelling against her bare thigh.
"Yes, please . . ."
It took every ounce of Legolas's control not to allow his overwrought body to follow his words down to disaster. He longed to cover her, to thrust himself into her and not stop. Instead, he made a phallus of his hand, feeling his middle and forefingers slide into heat, while his thumb stroked elsewhere.
He recalled his father's voice so many years ago. "It's like a nest, son; and when you find the little bird, she will sing for you." Zamin sang for him now, giving voice to the breathy cries he had come to recognise as her pleasure-noises.
His own body ached, with a frustration that brought tears into his eyes. He knew now why he had always been reluctant to engage in the furtive, experimental gropings that so many of the other young elves favored. His nature was such that it was too painful to start what could not be finished.
Giving vent to his desire in words, he said, "Oh, yes, Zamin, I would take you hard and deep, again and again until --ahhh!" He hitched in his breath as her hand worked its way down between their bodies to grasp him. She had never done this before. He had never been touched this way by anyone other than himself, and the sudden sensation took his wits away entirely. He lost control of his tongue, burying his face in her hair while he moaned elvish words of passionate obscenity into her ear, his body grinding helplessly against her thigh and her encircling hand.
She may have cried out his name; he did not notice, so lost was he in rut. He merely sensed that she clenched around his fingers and then relaxed. "Ah, Zamin," he groaned, and let himself spill.
He lay panting for a time and then began to laugh softly. Some lover he was! "Of course, having made you mine," he said, as if to make a jest of it, "I would become yours as well. But I would soon become of no use to you, for the king's surgeon would see to it I became no use to any woman at all. Other than my lovely singing voice, that is."
He paused to clean the two of them up with the corner of the bed sheet. Thank Elbereth for discreet maids. He came too near the knife already.
"Is it true, then Maitimo, what they say about the Nimîr?" she asked. "That if a man lies with a woman, he ties himself to her?"
Legolas shrugged. "So it is said. Some of my folk begin to doubt, but so far no one has been willing to make the experiment. And truly, lady, we do not take these things lightly. Already, I grow too fond of you. Bond or not, if I were to lie with you, I would be unable to disguise it. We would be lost."
He waited for her to ask him the obvious question of why such a one would choose the life of a courtesan. But instead she looked at him with genuine kindness. "Then we must see that it does not happen, Maitimo."
She kissed him then and rested her head against his chest.
After a time, he said, "You deserve better, Zamin. You deserve a man who can actually give you the things I spoke of just now as empty boasts. Not this adolescent . . . play."
She sighed and laughed. "I suppose I do deserve better. But whoever said life was fair?"
At this, he gave a belly laugh that bounced her head on his chest. "You knew Barlomi? Those are his words."
"Indeed I did," she replied. "A very inventive young man, Master Barlomi. But his heart was not in it. Not like you, Maitimo. I rather think he preferred my brother."
Having met Barlomi, Legolas rather thought Zamin was right. "I am sorry, Zamin. Was there no one, ever?" he asked, daring, in the afterglow of their intimacy, to be so bold.
"Once, long ago in my youth," she said. "A young man in my father's court looked upon me in the same way as Lord Azrulbar gazes upon Nimitha. I found him fair as well, but it was impossible, of course. My fate was sealed and to the east I must go. When I returned, all had changed. He became embittered, they told me. To this day, he has not met my eye." She propped herself up on one elbow, turned to him and smiled. "Do not trouble yourself, Maitimo. As hard as the life of a bêthnaru can be, at least you do not have the obligations of royalty. We accept it as our duty."
Legolas bit his lip and made no answer.
* * *
Legolas sat beside Huzun's bed, listening to the Vizier snore and mutter words of passion in his sleep. He had quickly realized that it would look strange if he were to be seen leaving Huzun's apartments soon after arriving, given the detailed memories Huzun would have of their supposed encounters, so he had taken to bringing a book to read to pass the time.
His current reading matter was yet another work of Haradran philosophy, this time, a treatise on the nature of reality itself. Legolas found this ironic, given that as he read he paused from time to time to dictate fantasies of exotic bed play into the ear of the sleeping Vizier; visions that he would mistake for reality upon awaking. It made Legolas stop to ponder the nature of his own life, for could he truly say that his own past memories were not dreams placed into his head by some superior, unknowable being? He did not find it to be an entirely comfortable thought.
Today, Legolas felt tired and out of sorts. Over the past weeks and months, he had made imaginative use of the Gondorian scrolls, turning the tables on Huzun at first in the spirit of revenge, but then discovering in the man an unsuspected enjoyment of being the object of his own painful games. However, innovation had run dry, and Legolas had at last had his fill of whips and other sinister toys, both as giver and receiver.
So what, he thought, if Huzun should find today's activities lacking? He had more gifts of fine jewelry than he knew what to do with. If the Vizier withheld his gratitude henceforth, so be it. He shut his book and bent to Huzun's ear. "Today, we make love, you and I. Gently, tenderly, no pain . . ."
Huzun began to writhe in the old familiar pantomime and Legolas, bored, turned his attention back to his book. He had read no more than a few paragraphs when he heard a whispered sigh from the bed, "Zamin . . ."
Legolas slowly swiveled his head to look down at the sleeping man. He decided his imagination had not been playing tricks on him, for Huzun's face had softened from its usual haughty sneer into an expression of tender longing. "Zamin," he muttered again as he spent himself into his sheets.
"Oh, Rodyn . . . " Legolas whispered. The Lady Zamin had mentioned a young courtier, embittered. Huzun was the right age. What turned a man sour, other than the pain of loss and the powerlessness to prevent it? Would wonders never cease? Legolas had thought that if he lived until Ardhon Meth, he would never feel sympathy for Huzun, yet life, in its strange way, had just taught him differently.
Feeling a lump in his throat, Legolas again set aside his book and bent to the Vizier's ear.
"My lord," he said softly, "there is a better way . . ."
* * *
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven!" Zori clapped her hands with glee as she scooped a pile of coins from the sand.
The two of them knelt in the corner of Legolas's garden, playing a strategy game Zori had taught him, that consisted of distributing coins among a series of twelve pits arranged in a circle in the sand, half belonging to Legolas and the other half to Zori. The aim was quite simple; to sow from one's own pits such that the final coin landed in an opponent's, capturing the contents. They had started out playing for pebbles, but Legolas had early on suggested they make it more interesting by playing for coins, his gold against Zori's coppers.
As a sharp-eyed, sharp-minded elf, Legolas had little trouble remembering how many coins were in each pit, which was the secret to winning the game.
"Ten of them in that pit! If you keep on like that, you will impoverish me," Legolas protested. In truth, he had more money than he knew what to do with, so he generally let the lady win, although not so obviously as to embarrass her.
"Zori," he began, as he counted out six coins from his own pit, "I have a question for you. It concerns Lord Huzun."
Zori looked up sharply. "Has he hurt you?"
Legolas bit back a smile. The idea that he had a protector in this little woman warmed his heart, as ludicrous as it seemed. "No. At least nothing that is not all in a day's work. But I see you know his . . . reputation."
"More than I care to," Zori scowled. "I may be a servant, but I hear a thing or two. That man does not like bêthnari."
"And yet he consorts with them. I find it . . . interesting." Legolas pretended to frown as he scooped two coins from Zori's pit, having left three behind. "Ai, luck is not with me today," he muttered dramatically.
"It is, considering . . ." Zori began, but stopped quickly, lowering her eyes.
"Ah, a secret of the court, perhaps?" Legolas prodded.
"Not such a secret, at least not among the lowly folk," Zori replied. "This is just servants' gossip, mind you."
"That is the best kind," Legolas laughed, thinking of Galion back home, who always knew everyone's business. "There is not a servant who does not know more about the doings of the court than the king himself and delights in sharing it."
"Except for the Lady Zamin's maid," said Zori, giving Legolas a pointed look. "I think that woman's mother mated with a clam." She scooped up four coins from one of her pits and began to sow them out.
Legolas blushed. "You were saying something about Lord Huzun . . .?"
"Mmmm. Yes. From what I have heard, our Vizier, as a young man, loved a certain princess whose hand was being sought by the Easterlings as part of a treaty. This was back in the day of our old king, Khorlai's father."
"Interesting." Legolas did not react as Zori's last coin landed in a pit with eight of his own. "Much like our young Azrulbar inside."
"I can only pray the young lord's fate goes better than Huzun's. Huzun resolved not to lose his love, and to this end, he enlisted the aid of the old king's favorite, a bêthnaru by the name of Manôlôkhî, to speak on his behalf. This bêthnaru asked payment for exercising his influence over the besotted king."
"Gold?" said Legolas, taking his turn and sowing out coins.
Zori shook her head and pursed her lips into a thin line. "Huzun had little gold to offer. Manôlôkhî demanded favors -- bed favors, or so it is said. And Huzun did it -- lay with Manôlôkhî for love of the princess. Alas for him, for Manôlôkhî dealt double. He took the Easterling ambassador's gold as well, and the payment was higher. I was not present, of course, because I served as only a kitchen maid in those days, but those who were say that the look on Huzun's face when the old king announced his daughter's marriage was a terrible thing to behold. From that day he . . . did not care much for the bêthnari."
Legolas sighed. "Truly, he does not. Nor does he care much for himself, I deem."
"Maitimo," Zori said timidly, "is it true, the tales they tell of him? I worry about you."
Legolas shrugged. "I can take care of myself. It was others I feared for." He did no longer. "One, two three, four, five . . ." He paused, realizing that in his distraction he had not planned out his move well. The pit he landed in contained ten of Zori's coins.
"Oh dear," she said noticing her impending loss.
"I will give you a choice, dear lady," he said, laughing. "My prize, or a kiss. Which will it be?"
"A woman has to be practical," she said. "You may have a kiss."
"Excellent! That is my choice as well," he said sweeping her into his arms and kissing her saucily.
"Ah-hem! Must I always rescue my nurse from your clutches, Master Maitimo?"
Legolas pulled back quickly. By the Rodyn, Nimitha could move almost as silently as Aragorn when she tried!
"We must leave now," Nimitha said, watching Zori collect her coins. Legolas noticed that her eyes seemed reddened and that Azrulbar hung back in the doorway, looking woebegone.
Once the two women had departed, Azrulbar at last stepped out from behind the divan, moving stiffly. "Do not look at me to deal with that," said Legolas, noting the young man's state, one which Legolas understood only too well. "You may use my washroom if you wish."
Azrulbar nodded curtly and disappeared. He would not be gone very long, Legolas thought. Legolas poured himself a glass of wine and lay back on the divan. What train of events had he set into motion here, and where would they lead, he mused? He worried for Azrulbar and Nimitha, but for Zamin, after hearing Zori's tale, he feared a little less.
* * *
"Ai, nuath," Legolas muttered, as Phazan's black Vizier took his queen. Just as quickly, Legolas's mounted horseman finished off the Vizier. The game drew to a close. Phazan had now lost all his pieces save his king and a few pawns, while Legolas retained the knight as well as his king. "You play a fierce game, my friend. I fear I must yield to you."
"No, Maitimo, you defended well. I no longer have any piece that can take your king, and it is a stalemate at best." The librarian smiled. Of late he did this more and more, as if forgetting how the expression twisted his scarred cheek, and indeed, Legolas barely noticed the wound anymore. "You and I are evenly matched."
Legolas laughed. "So it would seem. I am too used to losing, since my regular chess partner almost always beats me."
"And your regular partner would be . . .?"
"My father," Legolas said quickly, deciding that truth was the best course of action. Phazan could be unnervingly perceptive of any outright falsehood.
"He taught you well," Phazan said, with a sigh. "Fathers and sons are a strange thing. I fear that to my own father, I am somewhat of a . . . disappointment."
Legolas bit his lip. He had not betrayed to Phazan that he knew of his true identity and would not do so now. "My lord, shall I see you at dinner tonight?"
Phazan shook his head, with a bitter smile. "I think not."
"I sing almost every night," Legolas pressed, "but it would please me if, for once, you were listening."
Phazan sighed. "Look at me, Maitimo," he said gesturing helplessly at his ruined face, and it gave Legolas a pang to notice that he forgot and did so with his stump rather than his remaining hand. "Would you like to see . . . this across your dinner table? I was considered to be fair to look upon, once. No woman will have me now, and I would not even ask it of a bêthnaru. I may no longer be handsome, but at least I may still be considerate."
"Truly, my lord," said Legolas, "I no longer see it."
"Indeed? Do you not? If I were to ask you to . . . ?" Phazan shook his head and smiled sadly. "No, Maitimo, have no fear. Your friendship has meant much to me. I will never presume."
Realizing he was holding his breath, Legolas let it out slowly and discreetly. "As you will, my lord."
* * *
"Sing for us, Maitimo."
"What song have you for us tonight, Nimru?"
Legolas bowed and smiled as he took his place before the court, harp in hand. He had just the song in mind for this evening, one he had learned in a tavern in Gondor, drinking one night with Gimli. Upon hearing it the dwarf had snorted with the sound of a backing up drain and spilled his ale down his beard. A touch of ribald humor would be perfect for a court where Legolas now felt entirely at ease.
Legolas smiled at King Khorlai, who nodded and smiled back. On the king's left sat Zamin, who gazed at him warmly yet had a pensive air about her tonight. Legolas caught her eye and began:
"There was a knight and he was young,
Riding along the way;
And he met a lady fair
Among the cocks of hay.
"He said, 'Shall you and I lady
Among the grass lie down?
And I will have a special care
Of the rumpling of your gown.'"
Zamin quirked the corner of her mouth up, and Legolas grinned back.
'"If you will go along with me
Unto my father's hall,
You shall enjoy my maidenhead
And my estate and all.'"
Upon hearing these words, Nimitha, who sat to Khorlai's right, leaned her chin upon her hand and sighed.
"So he mounted her on a milk white steed,
Himself upon another,
And they went out on the road
Like sister and like brother."
From his lower table, Azrulbar stared back, his face bereft. 'Take care, young man,' Legolas thought. 'Your feelings show.'
At the table of the bêthnari, Legolas saw Yanâkhim fidget and stifle a dramatic yawn. Legolas made a face and fluttered dark lashes that needed little kohl in the young man's direction, eliciting a scowl. He smiled sweetly and started the next verse.
"But when they came to her father's house
Which was moated all about,
She stepped straight within the gate
And shut that young knight out."
Suddenly, Huzun rose from his chair and walked round the king's table. Legolas almost missed a note, tensing for trouble. Had the Vizier seen the longing looks between the young courtier and the princess and decided to put an end to it?
"'If you should see a lady fair
As you go through the town,
You must not fear the dewy grass
Nor the rumpling of her gown.'"
Instead of going to the king, Huzun spoke a word to the courtier who sat beside Zamin. The man nodded and rose, relinquishing his seat to the Vizier, who sat down in his place. As Legolas began the final verse, he saw Huzun whisper into Zamin's ear.
"And should you see a lady gay
As you ride past the hill,
If you will not when you may,
You shall not when you will."
Zamin turned to look at Huzun in surprise. What had he said, Legolas wondered, to put that look on her face? He struck a final chord on his harp and sang:
"For if you will not when you may,
You shall not when you will."
Before Legolas could pay any more attention to Huzun, Khorlai raised a hand to silence the applause. "Lovely, lovely as usual, Nimru. Your words inspire me to retire early tonight."
Legolas bowed. "Then I wish His Majesty a gracious good evening."
"Ah, no, Maitimo," Khorlai said. "I wish you to join me."
Although the words were sweetened with a benign smile and couched as a request, Legolas recognized an order when he heard one. 'A, Elbereth!' he thought. 'The moment for which I came to Harad is upon me.'
Schooling his features into a mask of princely serenity, Legolas moved forward on the balls of his feet, feeling the familiar prickle of battle readiness course through his veins. He barely jumped as Khorlai laid a hand upon his shoulder. At the last moment, he turned and let his gaze sweep the hall. On the second story of the chamber was what, at home in Gondor, would be called a minstrels' gallery, screened off by a carved wood grille. Legolas saw a silhouette behind the screen, a figure that shrank back into the shadows as soon as he spied it.
'He came to hear me sing after all,' Legolas thought. 'Ah, Phazan . . .'
"Come, Nimru," said Khorlai, tightening his grip upon Legolas's shoulder. "The night is still young."
* * * * * * *
To be continued . . .
Ardhon Meth: World's End
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.